Honolulu rail project: political football or policy football?

The Saint ReportPoliticians and Planning, Referendum/initiative, saintblog, TransportationLeave a Comment

By Owen Eagan,
Senior Vice President, Transportation, The Saint Consulting Group

Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii has asked Mayor Mufi Hannemann of Honolulu to revise plans for the city’s proposed $5.3 billion rail project in light of financial issues.  Specifically, she suggests building a portion of the elevated project at street level to save costs and has promised a thorough review of the project to see that all alternatives have been considered (see http://bit.ly/73uYMS).

The Honolulu rail project, a 20-mile light rail project from east Kapolei to Ala Moana, was approved by voters in November 2008.  A final environmental impact report is currently being reviewed by federal transportation officials, which the governor must approve in order for the project to move forward.  While there is some merit to the governor’s concerns, there is some speculation that this is more about politics than policy.  First, Lingle is a Republican and Hannemann is a Democrat.  Second, though Lingle is unable to run for reelection due to term limits, Hannemann is currently seeking her seat.

Lingle’s position is supported by the Hawaii chapter of the AIA, which has expressed concerns about the project’s visual impact. In fact, Lingle cosponsored a public forum on January 18th with the AIA to discuss alternatives (see http://bit.ly/6vtmR9).  However, a strong case can be made that a street level train will increase transit time and decrease ridership (see http://bit.ly/6ykKGh).   It’s unfortunate that this project has become a football of any sort but, if it has to be a football, let’s hope it’s a policy football and not a political football.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Saint Consulting was a consultant for the Go Rail Go campaign, the campaign advocating passage of the ballot initiative.)

Owen Eagan is senior vice president for transportation, The Saint Consulting Group, email eagan@tscg.biz, phone 818.239.4769

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