BY FORMER GOV. BEN CAYETANO – Let me be clear with Mr. Peter Rogoff and the Federal Transit Administration: If I am elected, I will not support the proposed elevated, steel on steel rail system that will deface our city and cost at least $7 billion or more. I will explore what many cities throughout the US have turned to: bus rapid transit and/or at grade light rail.
As Mr. Rogoff himself has said publicly: rail is not for every city. Mr. Rogoff and the FTA know that no city comparable to Honolulu in size has built or is planning to build an elevated, steel on steel rail system. The last two cities — with populations much larger than Oahu — that built elevated, steel on steel heavy rail were Miami (30 years ago) and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Both are financial disasters — San Juan’s “Tren Urbano” built by Parsons Brinkerhoff (2005) has been an embarassment for the FTA and the subject of Congressional inquiry.
At $250 million per mile, the City’s rail project is the most expensive rail system per capita in the United States. There are only 950,000 residents who live on Oahu, the population is forecasted to grow by only 100,000 by 2030. It is unconscionable to saddle such a small tax base with the huge costs of rail while they are literally compelled to pay billions to upgrade the city’s neglected infrastructure: its aging and neglected sewer and water systems and pot hole filled roads that rival that of third world countries.
Mr. Rogoff should heed the words of the FTA staffers who warned about the City’s “public manipulation” and criticized the city for rushing construction by setting unreasonable and impractical schedules. The City’s multi-million dollar public relations campaign misled the public into believing rail would reduce traffic congestion. Yet FTA disagreed and has publicly stated in its record of decision that rail will not reduce traffic congestion. City engineers and consultants admit this in the FEIS but said nothing while the politicians continued to lie and hype rail to the public.
Indeed, a 2009 Honolulu Advertiser poll concluded that 73% of the public believed rail would reduce traffic congestion and even Senator Inouye believed it would, saying it repeatedly in his public remarks. Two recent polls revealed that the support for rail has made a dramatic turn around. A poll by the StarAdvertiser concluded that 53% of the public no longer support rail, a poll by Civil Beat showed 55% oppose rail. Only 34% support rail.
Mr. Rogoff and the FTA should ask themselves why, after the city spent more than $5 million to promote rail in addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by pro-rail advocates, has the tide of public opinion turned against rail? I suggest its because the public now has more information about the rail project and the majority sees through the City’s publication relations campaign of lies and hype. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my 28 years in public office it is that the public is smarter than most politicians think.
I have studied rail project ever since I served as chairman of the transportation committee in the state legislature in 1974. I served in that capacity for six of my twelve years as a state legislator. I believe if Honolulu’s proposed rail system is ever built, it will take its place along Miami and San Juan’s Tren Urbano as the FTA’s biggest failures.
Ben Cayetano served in the state legislature and as Hawaii’s lieutenant governor and governor. He is now a candidate for Honolulu mayor.