NOTE: Much of our 25-year history with rail follows this February 6, 2019 Star-Advertiser article. AFCR began the “Stop Rail At Middle Street” mantra some years ago. As of October 15, 2019, it could still happen. What a mess!
February. 6, 2019
EDITORIAL | ISLAND VOICES
Robbins should pause rail transit at Middle Street, then take stock
By Scott Foster
If words were measured in ounces, there’s been more written about the Honolulu rail project than the combined weight of all of the concrete and steel used to bring it close to the Middle Street bus terminal. Through the years, those paying attention have observed a litany of questionable maneuverings by politicians, contractors and PR people.
To us, how we got to where we are today is perfectly understandable and the three recent critical audits have actually exceeded our original worst-case predictions. The Honolulu city audit put it in the most simple terms: “The rush to approve the project was for political reasons.”
When Andrew Robbins was hired as the executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) in 2017, I researched his background and was somewhat relieved to see he’s an engineer with many years experience in building rail transit projects. Robbins had held various high positions with Bombardier, a large international company with much experience in large-scale rail projects.
An executive with such strong credentials and experience is a first at HART. Unfortunately, Robbins was not here in the beginning, and he should not be held accountable for the many past mistakes.
My organization, Hawaii Advocates For Consumer Rights (AFCR), has been against this rail project from day one, believing that the all-elevated-steel-on-steel-third-rail system we wound up with would indeed produce the massive construction costs and contract overruns we’ve been witnessing. Agreeing with the late Honolulu Councilman Duke Bainum, many of us believed that a rubber on concrete system that was elevated where necessary and “at grade” (on the ground) where possible was best, far less expensive and would also be much quieter than the “steel-on-steel” system that the voters approved after an unrelenting public disinformation campaign funded by the very companies, unions, individuals and consultants that would ultimately benefit the most financially via contracts and jobs.
In any event, Robbins may be the only person on Earth who can get the project built and operating. As AFCR recently testified at the City Council, we believe the best thing Robbins might do is to pause the project at Middle Street and get it operative — before a contract is signed on what has been acknowledged to be the most disruptive and expensive segment: Dillingham-downtown-Ala Moana.
If paused at Middle Street, HART could at least explore the feasibility of rerouting the project to the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Given what we now know about climate change and the rising sea level, hopefully the Federal Transit Administration would understand these dire climate change projections and not demand its money back.
The very idea of the system terminating at Ala Moana Center was an ill-conceived plan from the beginning — given the additional amount of vehicular traffic (bus and car) that would be generated in and around the already near-gridlock Ala Moana area.
If, as a growing number of local and international economists are predicting, the world is heading into another major recession, what happens then? Anyone living in Hawaii during the 1995 “Japanese investment bust” could tell you. Pausing rail at Middle Street and revisiting the original UH-Manoa route could save the entire project.
Whatever happens, I sincerely wish Mr. Robbins the best of luck. Like rail or not, at this point we all need to see him somehow successful.
The Honolulu Rail Transit System
Compiled and written by Scott Foster
As time permits, we will be adding more of our massive collection of documents and photos related to Hawaii Advocates For Consumer Rights’ (AFCR) and my long, personal history to try and see a practical, affordable mass transit system in Honolulu. NOTE: Follow the Honolulu rail saga via cartoonist extraordinaire John Pritchett’s book and on-line gallery of work on the subject HERE
AFCR was not formed until 1995 but my own involvement began in 1992 when I personally joined with many other citizens and organizations to organize and implement a public education campaign resulting in former Honolulu Councilmember Rene Mancho changing her rail vote from “Yes” to “No.” Her no vote literally stopped the train. To learn more about how and who was originally responsible, read the August 8, 2005, Honolulu Star-Bulletin article which provides a brief history of rail in Honolulu, including the turned Mancho vote HERE.
Although we’ll never know, my personal opinion as to why we were successful then was because the rail proponents held many community presentations with large aerial photographs of the various stations with overlaid graphics depicting the massive station footprints. I attended all of these presentations and watched as people were literally stunned to see how overbuilt and intrusive the project indeed was. For example, the Moiliili station at University, King and Beretania put the entire intersection under concrete and obliterated the entire view plane.
HONOLULU MASS TRANSIT
How we came close to having the best
At the time of his death, the late Honolulu Councilmember, Dr. Duke Bainum was working directly with then Councilmember Charles Djou and others to stop what has become today’s massive Honolulu rail “boondoggle.” I was retained several times by Dr. Bainum during his admirable political career and we had finalized Advocating Accountability & Wise Transportation Solutions the very night of his death on June 9, 2009. A media release was planned for the next day regarding the damning letter Bainum and Djou had sent to the US Department of Transportation (June 2, 2009). Read that damning letter HERE. Our Advocating Accountability & Wise Transportation Solutions document was to have been a part of a preemptive media release — along with the growing list of respected local organizations supporting Duke’s position on mass transit. Dr. Bainum was a strong supporter of expanding Honolulu’s efficient bus system.
When Dr. Bainum unexpectedly died, a full council vote was already scheduled and Council Chair Nestor Garcia indeed proceeded with that vote only a few days after Duke’s passing. Without Duke’s vote, the result was a foregone conclusion. The one bright spot from that vote was, we were able to force the rail project to come back to the Council to seek approval for every single bond request and that indeed continues.
Anyone wanting to know the full blow-by-blow story of how Honolulu got into the $10-Billion+ transit debacle should reference honolulutraffic.com. I’ve come to admire businessman and writer Cliff Slater and his wife Bobbi for their tireless work over many years to try and keep Honolulu from being bankrupted by the Honolulu Rail Project.
HOW HART CAME TO BE
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) was not established for any of the reasons given by our political establishment. The City Administration had proposed a Transit Authority ostensibly, “so we can take as much politics out of [rail] as possible.” And according to the Honolulu Advertiser, “it makes perfect sense.”
But it did not make sense to us. We wrote at the time, “The Administration has yet to make its case on the need for a Public Transit Authority. Elsewhere in the U.S. all the Transit Authorities we could find are established to deal with jurisdictional issues between neighboring counties. Honolulu may well be the only county in the U.S. that has its own transit authority. Until such time as we are given a reasonable explanation for the necessity for such an authority we should assume something untoward is afoot and therefore oppose it.” Sadly, HART passed and here we are today; way over budget with no leadership or accountability. Read more about how HART came to be HERE.
Aug 21, 2011
How the city misled the public. Despite chronic, troubling spin on facts,
rail is not a done deal, a prominent quartet insists
By Walter Heen, Benjamin Cayetano, Cliff Slater and Randall Roth
Read the original HERE