Opponents of Honolulu’s Rail Transit Project Have No Shame.

Back in the early 1970s, officials from the federal agency then known as the Urban Mass Transportation Administration came to Honolulu and pleaded with government officials to get their act together and approve the city’s proposed transit project. Furthermore, they were ready to provide 90 percent of the funding.

The UMTA people understood what most of us already knew: Geographically, Honolulu is made for a rail transit system. They felt that the proposed system couldn’t fail and Honolulu would serve as a success model for other transit projects throughout the rest of the country.

They were right, too. Honolulu is a long, narrow city strung out between the mountains and the sea. The basic plan has been the same for 40 years: Run a rail line right through the middle of that urban area and use the existing city buses to bring people from their neighborhoods to the transit line.

Sadly – no, tragically – that initial project was defeated by the Honolulu City Council. The vote was 5-4. A revised proposal was resurrected several years later, but met the same fate. Different members on the Council, but it was another 5-4 vote.

Meantime, Honolulu kept growing: more people, more urban sprawl, more environmental degradation and, of course, more traffic congestion. In fact, Honolulu was recently recognized as having the worst commuter traffic in the whole damn country! It now takes an hour or more to cover the 14-15 miles into downtown Honolulu from the Leeward Plain. And that’s on a good day.

So a few years back, Honolulu city officials tried a third bite at the transit apple. And this time they went all out, even getting the electorate to vote for a one-half percent increase to our local sales tax to generate money for the project.

The feds committed their support and things got rolling. Believe it or not, construction was actually started a few months back.

But the opposition had been rolling, too. And, typical of anti-rail forces anywhere, most of their arguments were purely emotional and there was, of course, a great deal of misinformation.
The fact is, most of people actively working against the project are doing so because of their own personal ideology. They are libertarians who hate any government backed project because it requires – shudder – tax dollars. And, finally, there are the selfless folks who oppose the transit system because they personally will never ride it.

But here’s the latest outrage: A new anti-rail group has popped up and joined the fray. It’s called the Hawaii Environmental Coalition and they are opposing a project the rest of us passionately support in large part because of its environmental benefits. That was weird enough for a local on-line news organization to take a look at this new organization’s membership. Guess what? It’s the same bunch of conservative and libertarian politicians and ideologues that has been opposing the Honolulu transit projects for forty years! It’s hard to imaging anything more cynical … or more dishonest.