New Rail Systems – Obama Administration Position is Loud and Clear, but Hawaii Politicians Too ______ to Hear

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BY PANOS PREVEDOUROS PHD – The headline is factual, and I leave room for the adjective of your preference to complete the sentence.

Our national level politicians U.S. Senators Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, local level politicians such as Neil Abercrombie, Kirk Caldwell, Peter Carlisle, Mufi Hannemann, Norman Sakamoto and other members of the Hawaii Democrat establishment, are all hopelessly pro-rail when both federal support and local benefits are absent.


I explained in my blog that the benefits of rail to traffic congestion are practically none, and that its local benefits in terms of jobs are too low, too late and at too huge a tax burden (Proposed Rail Creates 1,000 Local Jobs and Destroys 4,000 Jobs, April 14, 2010.)

Now federal support comes into serious doubt.

Transportation expert Kenneth Orski summarized the current Obama administration realities and priorities: Speaking at a National Summit on the Future of Transit before an audience of leading transit General Managers on May 18, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff questioned the wisdom of expanding rail networks when money is badly needed to maintain and modernize existing facilities.

“At times like these, it’s more important than ever to have the courage to ask a hard question: If you can’t afford to operate the system you have, why does it make sense for us to partner in your expansion? If you can’t afford your current footprint, does expanding that underfunded footprint really advance the President’s goal for cutting oil use and greenhouse gasses?  Are we at risk of just helping communities dig a deeper hole for our children and our grandchildren?

Rogoff’s continued with this: “Put down the glossy brochures, roll up our sleeves and target our resources on repairing the system we have.” Rogoff seems to know about the multimillion Hannemann smoke and mirror rail shows funded by taxpayers. On the other hand, our TheBus and HandiVan can use more support and need more improvement.

Rogoff cited the preliminary results of a Federal Transit Administration study of the financial needs of 690 public transit systems across America that show a $78 billion backlog of deferred maintenance. Basically 30% of U.S. transit assets are “in poor or marginal condition.”

But hasn’t Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood championed public transit as an alternative to highway expansion? Hasn’t the Obama Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget include funds for new rail lines?

Yes but fiscal realities can do wonders to bring federal officials down to earth said Orski. The Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund is barely solvent. The U.S. Department of Transportation budget will grow by only 1% in 2011. So the Obama Administration has decided to apply a more sane investment standard to transit: Forget about massive capacity expansion and focus on getting the most out of the assets already in place by maintaining them in a state of good repair.

Hannemann, Inouye and Oberstar may talk about fat cows, but fiscally we are in a famine.  Apo, Caldwell, Carlisle and Okino may talk about fat benefits, but in reality rail causes a famine because it is a huge tax hole for us, our children and grandchildren. Hawaii pro-rail politicians have both a credibility and a hearing problem. Perhaps the incessant steel-on-steel noise inside their heads makes them incapable of hearing the sucking sound of Billion and Trillion dollar deficits.

Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD is a Professor of Civil Engineering at UHM and Honolulu Mayor Candidate. He can be reached at 63-PANOS (637-2667) or at





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