Honolulu’s Rail Project: One Big Placebo

Former City Council Member Tom Berg
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Former City Council Member Tom Berg

BY TOM BERG – If we were to approach our transportation crisis on Oahu as if it were a fatal disease- let’s call it traffic congestion, and our elected officials were to be the ones to administer the treatment to combat it and play doctor, you would expect their prognosis to employ the use of the most successfully demonstrated medicinal regiment currently available to overcome the illness.

All of us who traverse the roads on Oahu are patients. We suffer from every symptom of traffic congestion known and it is at its worst, debilitating our economy, playing with our psyche in such a way that the disease controls and dictates our every move.
Elected officials got the diagnosis right in that they concluded we are headed for pure gridlock if we don’t act fast. However, it is in their prognosis to treat the disease with a prescription of rail that is nothing more than a placebo for a town like ours.
A placebo carries no real medicine. It tricks the mind into thinking the prescription taken is a potent disease buster. So when the mind figures it out and realizes its been swindled, this can lead to cognitive dissidence.
Cognitive dissidence is basically defined as when one reality, let’s say ‘Reality A,’ collides with another reality, call it ‘Reality B,’ and you have to figure out a way to coexist with the two conflicting realities. In such instances a dysfunction often emerges.
For example, ‘Reality A’ is characterized by first hand experience that when roads are added to the grid, we have instant relief for the entire motoring public including the transport of goods, services, and freight. Thus, in ‘Reality A,’ the prescription of highway technology works, it cures traffic congestion.
When the late U.S. Senator Dan Inouye was at the helm, another reality was orchestrated- ‘Reality B.’ This one was pitched by mainstream media and almost every local politician.  Their mantra was that highway technology is no longer good medicine and rather, it is Smart Growth and Transit Oriented Development that will lead us to better health.
Proponents of ‘Reality B’ exclaimed that a bridge over Pearl Harbor or a tunnel underneath it, bus rapid transit, converting shoulders to usable lanes, widening roads, and creating reversible expressways will perpetuate our deplorable condition and therefore must be avoided.
In contrast to ‘Reality A,’ ‘Reality B’ acts like a placebo for ‘Reality B’ does not contain any medicine to move goods, services, or freight.
On Ft. Weaver Road in west Oahu, when at four-lanes, it was a 40-minute jaunt. When improved to six-lanes, 15-minutes. Why then, would you believe the advocates of ‘Reality B’ that the adding of lanes doesn’t work to relieve traffic congestion?
No other patient our size, has ever been prescribed heavy elevated rail to attack the illness we face, especially when every test undertaken to monitor our status concluded we are severely lane deficient.  A competent doctor would simply combat such lane deficiency with a simple diet of more roadway lane miles.
Decades ago, the Estate of James Campbell and other government entities pitched a tunnel idea under Pearl Harbor as a viable option to augment the highway system. The idea dissolved back in 1992 when tunneling technology was not as advanced as it is today to allay military concerns.
However, there is still time to get a second opinion and treat our illness with highway technology instead of rail. Highway technology is less expensive than rail on all fronts, quicker to build, and in the end, will actually relieve traffic congestion. And please note, tunneling technology has improved immensely over the years in that building a tunnel now under Pearl Harbor has been welcomed by the military if certain conditions are met.
Of benefit to the military, visitor, and non-military residents alike, is that a tunnel would not have any adverse effects on traffic while being constructed. A tunnel would cost less and require no additional taxes to implement. There would be no noise, no visual blight, and minimal property acquisition factors to contend with.
In our situation, one would have expected that a competent doctor would have evaluated all treatments available to remedy our condition and would let the patient in on the decision. However, in 2005 when all the alternatives available to address our sickness were made known, then Mayor Hannemann deliberately removed the tunnel option from the rail scoping meetings, the alternative analysis, and environmental impact study. It was shelved without any public hearing being held or consultation with us, the patients paying the bills and seeking a cure.
On the other hand, prior to Mayor Hannamann acting unilaterally to squash the tunnel, the tunnel option was fully vetted and approved by the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, its Citizens Advisory Committee, and the state legislature. In fact, the legislature passed a budget bill calling for a feasibility study to explore the Pear Harbor Tunnel Concept further before rail was even chosen by the Honolulu City Council as the preferred technology.
The option to resolve our transportation crisis was called the Pearl Harbor Emphasis. When rail technology was compared to a managed lane proposal in 2008, Mayor Hannemann’s team made certain all maps, studies, and knowledge of the Pearl Harbor Emphasis was erased, purged, omitted, and records of it, destroyed from being in public view next to the rail propaganda.
One of the most egregious, unprofessional conduct a doctor can make, is withhold information from the patient whereby the treatment undisclosed may actually have the potential and capability to heal the patient.
When challenged about the professional misconduct-  such as withholding information that could bring on a cure faster, cheaper, and more effective than rail, certain proponents of steel wheels on steel rails went on to claim that the military would never permit a tunnel underneath Pearl Harbor. This is not true. Concocting false statements to withhold treatment available to patients warrants in my opinion, that a doctor’s license to practice medicine be revoked…and in this instance, that means impeaching certain politicians.
For example, in ‘Reality A,’ Rear Admiral M.C. Vitale, U.S. Navy Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, stated in a letter dated December 22, 2005 that:  “Any tunnel that passes under Navy land must be constructed such that an explosion or failure of the tunnel will not impact the Navy’s operation nor endanger the lives of personnel on the surface.”  On September 9, 2005, Colonel William Changose, Commander, 15th Airlift Wing at Hickam Air Force Base wrote, “I am willing to entertain the possibility of a tunnel that passes deep under Hickam AFB which is constructed with sufficient reinforcement to protect our military personnel and infrastructure in the event of an explosion within the tunnel.  My engineers tell me the technology exists.”
Another scare tactic used by the Hannemann administration at the time and also those pretending ‘Reality B’ was superior to ‘Reality A,’ was that toll roads cost much more to use than a parking garage/bus/rail fare combination. This too, is false. Our elevated heavy rail is the most expensive rail in the country per person to build in history and the city has yet to disclose what the fare will even be to take the rail….if and when it ever gets completed.
Miami, Florida decided to live in ‘Reality A’ and is constructing an underwater tunnel underneath a heavily utilized shipping lane as we speak. And Brisbane, Australia also embarked upon an underwater tunnel feature recently as it was clearly, superior to rail when given the opportunity to compete. Underwater tunnels are on every continent and they not just work, but are extremely successful.
Rest assured, we can indeed build and have operable a new expressway before rail ever gets completed; that’s reality, when you stop taking placebos.





  1. Mr. Berg,
    the rail is the only alternative that will free people from gridlock on H1. As a resident of Kapolei that works in town we travel this corridor daily. Regardless of zipper lanes being utilized all that needs to happen is for someone to apply their brakes rapidly and it all gets backed up for no reason. Let's stop rehashing the same rhetoric and move forward with the rail project. With the amount of new homes, retail and commercial being built in Ewa as well as Kapolei more and more cars will be on the road. We plan on either parking at the West Oahu rail station, enjoying a scenic uncongested ride to town and walking a few blocks to our offices.

    • There are over 100,000 people residing west of Ft. Weaver Road….and only 1,900 parking stalls total to accommodate them if they take their car to the rail station in west Oahu. But you miss the point- why was a tunnel option taken off the table by Hannemann without any public discussion / hearing / consultation with the public when he did such? It can be proven the tunnel costs less than rail moves more people than rail, gets you to your destination faster than rail, no construction headaches to contend with, no visual blight, minimal property acquisition, etc etc.

  2. Reality C is that Mr Berg is a very strange, self-absorbed person who is wont to ranting. This article a perfect example — a lot of verbage and…what was his point? He lost me.

    • More people and more cars will "increase" traffic…NOT rail. Rail will be the only viable alternative to get around when future growth makes the highways impossible.

  3. Cognitive dissidence? Seems to me that a main point of this ponderous tome could at least use the correct term – Cognitive dissonance.

  4. I can see the benefits to both options. But I pose this question. How many people that commute to Honolulu for work have to take their own vehicle or drive a work vehicle and have multiple places to visit each day. I understand that a good amount of people work in office towers. But It seems like a major amount of people have no choice and have to drive their own vehicle/work vehicle. So in my mind its potentially more beneficial to increase access for vehicles to downtown. And would it not be possible to include a rail in the tunnel????

    • Good question Zach. Marketing & sales careers will never use the rail, and downtown office workers need cars to pick the kids up, attend meetings, or refuse to sacrifice the Lexus/Mercedes/Cadillac cars to ride in a rail car with stinky Kapolei Resident or Mr Rollman

      As for future T.O.D. with rail routes; developments in Kakaako will offer 20 percent of its residences to those looking for affordable housing… " per state planners.
      So for us locals, Kakaako's future development ONLY allows 2 local middle to affordable incomes out of 10?
      Right now most urban plans on this corridor is for RICH people.

      Last, the EIS states; "InfraConsult's simulation of rail's transit load and schedule may "never match totally because of the random factors that can not be accounted for." Correction, send comments to your councilperson found at; https://www1.honolulu.gov/council/ccl.htm

  5. Tom, few can appreciate your in-depth thought and ability to turn a phrase. 4th grade level writing might be better understood by the pro-railers. See rail go. Go rail go. See rail stop. Stop rail stop.

  6. why not just toll the roads in a revenue neutral way? either refund it equally to all registered vehicles or use the revenue to subsidize the bus or give it to the poorest — all choices will make traffic flow. heck, even if the revenue is not refunded but used in the general fund, it will still solve the traffic problem. adding more roads will simply lure more traffic ad infinitum.

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