CITYLAB: Honolulu's Rapid Transit Crisis
by Dr Panos Prevedouros PhD, FixOahu, July 20, 2017
National publication CITYLAB which used to be Atlantic Cities covered the Honolulu rail boondoggle in Honolulu's Rapid Transit Crisis.
Despite a famously laid-back culture, Honolulu’s traffic is about as bad as it gets. In a bid to unsnarl its highways a bit in 2011, the city embarked on a $5.2 billion Honolulu Rail Transit Project. At the time, the planned 20-mile elevated electric train line was expected to ease traffic congestion on Hawaii’s most densely populated island by 18 percent, with the first trips planned for 2017.
Fast forward six years and the still-sputtering project looks very different. The city now estimates that the rail will cost $10 billion—almost five times the city’s annual budget and twice the original project cost estimate—while civil engineering specialists forecast a price tag closer to $13 billion.
Per capita, the Honolulu rail could become the most expensive transit project in U.S. history, according to the conservative public policy think tank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. What’s more, the funding source of at least $3 billion in projected costs remains unseen. Meanwhile, the city’s traffic problems have worsened and state lawmakers are left divided and scrambling to craft a plan to pay for the cash-strapped project. All told, 75 percent of the contracts needed to bring the project to completion have been awarded, and the first planned trips along the full track are no longer expected to run before 2025.
So when is it too late to quit a major public-infrastructure project gone awry?
“The project is objectively terrible,” says Panos D. Prevedouros, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Hawaii, whose two failed campaigns for mayor embraced an anti-rail platform. “It reminds me of some proclamations that Trump makes with the beautiful wall he wants to build. Well, in this case, it’s the beautiful train. But it is not beautiful. It’s useless for our population.”
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