Five Reasons Why Light Rail is a Bad Idea for Hawaii

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Having come from Portland Oregon, which has the Max Line, I have five reasons why light rail public transportation is a bad idea for Hawaii.

First, even with Federal matching funds, the project will never, ever pay for itself. It will at the time it is built, and forever after, be a drain on the state’s or city’s budget. I can’t think of a single case where a rail commuter line has ever paid for itself, even the highly successful LA Blue Line can barely break even. Even when such commuter lines’ ridership far exceeds projections they still must be subsidized by the state or city. Can Hawaii afford this?


Second, light rail systems are unbelievably ugly. One of the most salable aspects of Hawaii is its natural beauty. Rail lines, and the power lines used to power most modern light rail, is one of the uglier of human creations in the realm of modern city life. Do the residents of this beautiful state want to compromise it with light rail lines? Nobody ever considers this aspect.

Third, as it has been presented it will never serve the interests of tourists. The rail lines will only serve a select portion of Oahu’s residents, which all the rest of the residents will have to subsidize. Since the intent is to reduce freeway commuter traffic it will be specifically designed to ignore tourists. No solution that ignores tourists is ever a good idea in this state.

Fourth, even if the rail lines were a total success they will have a minimal impact upon the aforementioned commuter traffic problem. This has been the experience of nearly all cities. Even with a full ridership, the percentage of commuters is so small as to make almost no impact upon commuter traffic. The solution doesn’t solve anything.

Fifth, the money spent on a rail line would be better spent on revamping the H-1 freeway. Hawaii’s freeway system was designed four decades ago and is in desperate need of an upgrade.

No matter which way one travels, the squeeze in the H-1 from Punahou to where the H-1 and Hwy 78 diverge is always the problem. I used to work at the airport, and live in Waikiki and travel this up to four times a day. Until this part of the H-1 is revamped, there will always be a problem, even with Gov. Linda Lingle’s proposed bypass. A rail line will only divert from this needed upgrade.

”’Don Newman is a resident of Hawaii and can be reached via email at”’