BY HAWAII REPORTER – The City and County of Honolulu is moving ahead with plans for its $5.5 billion rail transit system with the scheduling a groundbreaking ceremony later this month.
City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she received an invitation from Mayor Peter Carlisle to the ceremonial groundbreaking and blessing on Feb. 22 in off of the Kualakai Parkway (North-South Road) in Kapolei.
“The time has come to pick up our o’o and turn the ‘aina as we move forward with this historic project that will improve the quality of life for island residents for decades to come,” says the invitation. An o’o is a large hardwood stick that was used by ancient Hawaiians in farming; in modern times koa wood replicas have been used during groundbreaking ceremonies.
The ceremony comes after decades of work to build a 20-mile elevated rail system, and just weeks after the city received a key Federal Transit Administration approval. Kobayashi said she was surprised the groundbreaking is moving ahead given challenges still pending against the project.
“First of all there are two lawsuits and we had all these questions for (city Director of Transportation Services) Wayne Yoshioka that are still unanswered, especially about financials,” Kobayashi said.
“Let’s get the financials first. That affects all of us.”
The city has done extensive work trying to build a rail system since it was first proposed more than 40 years ago. The current plan calls for the system to run from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center to alleviate growth of traffic congestion. Honolulu commuters were recently identified as having to spend 31 hours extra in their cars annually because of traffic.
Opponents have raised questions about whether enough work was done evaluating alternatives, whether enough financial study has been done on how to handle possible cost overruns and whether appropriate environmental analysis was done.
A state report ordered by former Gov. Linda Lingle raised the possibility of the system costing $1.7 billion or more than the city has forecast. More recently a lawsuit was filed claiming bidding for planning and other contracts may not have been done correctly while another alleged not enough work had been done to identify and protect native Hawaiian burial sites.