Prelude to the Un-Done (Rail) Deal

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City's rail rendering

BY CLIFF SLATER – There have been a number of over-the-top statements made recently about how the rail project cannot be stopped. Sen. Inouye said that only World War III could stop it and Mayor Carlisle has said that rail is on its way and it is a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle. These are merely more of the “Relax folks, stop thinking or acting, this is a done deal.” Actually, those occasional clicking sounds you hear in the background are the dominos, slowly toppling one by one as they gain momentum and rail turns into the Un-Done Deal..

As we explained to the City Budget Committee on Thursday (Special Budget A video, starting 1hr. 7 mins. & 1hr. 52 mins.), the Council is taking a big risk by continuing to spend taxpayer money when the obstacles facing the rail project are so huge. Any one of the following will stop rail dead in its tracks, so to speak:


First, Ben Cayetano wins the Mayoral race on August 11 this year with more than 50 percent of the votes. Last Thursday Governor Abercrombie made it clear that this race will be a referendum on the future of rail so that means both the Mayor and Governor will be opposed to this rail project. FTA has always said they need to have strong local political support if they are to fund rail. Without the support of the Mayor and Governor, rail is dead.

Second, on August 21, ten days after the Mayoral election results, Federal Judge Wallace S. Tashima will hear the final motions on our lawsuit, et al, vs. FTA and the City. He will rule on this matter shortly thereafter. The cornerstone of this lawsuit is a statute passed in 1966 to inhibit federally funded transportation projects that negatively affect historic properties including burial sites. Since Congress passed it to prevent exactly this kind of destructive project, our attorneys expect to prevail. A new project must avoid the use, even constructive use, of historic properties.

Third, Congress is not likely to approve federal rail transit funding in time. Transportation Issues Daily says, “The Senate and House may pass most or all of the FY 2013 appropriations bills, but it is very unlikely final spending bills will be reconciled and approved until after the November elections.” If Republicans have a stronger hand after this year’s elections, rail transit projects without approved Full Funding Grant Agreements in place, such as Honolulu’s, can expect minimal funding.

Again, any one of these events kills rail; we expect all three.

So much for World War III . And as for the genie, what will not go back in the bottle is the public’s realization now that a) traffic congestion will be worse with rail, b) there will be no energy savings,  c) rail will not be faster than TheBus, and d) there would only be hundreds of short-term jobs, not thousands.  Those myths are now so exploded they are never going back in the bottle.





  1. FTA should pull the support and money right now, especially if strong local political support is a requirement. What does it say about the depth of Abercrombie’s support if he supports rail disappearing when/if Cayetano is elected? Does a small Ben-avatar named Cayetano live inside Abercrombie? Or is Abercrombie so facile he can’t carry water for his own opinion on this fiscal black hole?

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