Legislature Pushed Rail System Regardless of Cost, Performance or Ridership

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Former City Council Member Tom Berg
Photo: Emily Metcalf

BY COUNCIL MEMBER TOM BERG – The Hawaii State Legislature in 2005 passed HB1309, which became ACT 247.  Five years prior, Honolulu’s Mayor Jeremy Harris and his Administration advanced a study to address traffic on the H-1 Corridor resulting in highway technology being better than rail for relieving traffic – favoring a Bus Rapid Transit System over rail.

When the State Legislature and Governor signed off to approve ACT 247, all neighbor island Councils and Mayors could approve of raising their county GET by 0.5% of which could be used for highway technology- building toll roads, reversible expressways, and implementing a Bus Rapid Transit system.

In contrast, applicable to Oahu only, ACT 247 included language that prohibited a GET increase on Oahu for highway technology.  Applicable to us on Oahu only, any system on the elevated fixed guideway that does not stay on the elevated fixed guideway cannot be funded with the rail surcharge- meaning, if an ambulance or fire truck or bus uses the elevated fixed guideway and comes down at grade to use our surface streets, that would be a prohibited use of the rail surcharge.

The State Legislature knew that when they crafted HB1309 in 2005, that if all modes of traffic relief were studied on Oahu, rail would be defeated like it was five years earlier and Bus Rapid Transit (highway technology) would prevail.

Thus, the intent of the State Legislature was not to advance options for the greatest mode of traffic relief to succeed for Oahu’s residents but rather allow for a rail system regardless of the cost, performance, ridership and tax burden it will generate.

Within ACT 247, language permits the State Legislature to profiteer off of the GET rail surcharge levied on Oahu.  Thus far, the State has withheld $71 million of the $711 million collected.  The State only needs between $600,000 to $700,000 a year to administer the rail surcharge-  yet the State  Legislature collects in excess of $16 million a year on Oahu from the rail surcharge and then uses that money meant for the rail endeavor for projects on neighbor islands where the tax is not levied.

In conclusion, there is a better way to resolve our traffic congestion without the State Legislature making a profit off of taxpayers on Oahu desperate for traffic relief.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Mr. Berg, I understand that the state is taking 10% off the top to administer the GET collection for Oahu. Are you saying that we are being railroaded by the legislature? I was naive to think it was just the mayor.

    I’d be interested to hear about your better way.

  2. There may be no better way, but how would we know in light of how heavy, above-grade rail was “railroaded” sans reasoned and transparent debate regarding the alternatives, including doing nothing other than making our current roads work better than they now do? For years I’ve asked rail supporters just how much they would be willing to spend on rail? IOW, at what price does rail become too expensive?

    Not that I expect a carefully reasoned answer because I’ve never received one. Instead, it’s sorta fun to watch the stammering when the follow-up question is, “…. would you pay 10x as much in excise tax to support the train?” When the no answer is finally produced (from those who don’t walk away in a huff), the follow-on question is would you pay 5X as much?. And so on. What’s quickly obvious is that the average supporter of the train has no idea what the costs of the train will be… and this includes folks in the mayor’s office who don’t know either. (But they don’t discourage the uninformed yakking about how the train will cut traffic to Ewa… when even their own pro forma makes no such claim because even the most optimistic projections for the train are not projected to cut H-1 traffic below its current demand now or ever.)

    The train is a public works’ scam… a fiscal black hole that will vacuum city and county money away from everything and anything else — forever. And after it’s done? Hey, what’s next to “keep people employed?” Maybe we should begin discussing need for a city-owned, indoor, year-round snow ski facility so we can REALLY hit the big time, say like Tokyo…? But let’s make sure it’s served by the train, okay?

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