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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Caldwell Goes Wobbly, Urges Review of Rail Proposal
By News Release @ 7:40 PM :: 7089 Views :: Maui County, Education K-12

LINK: Caldwell's "Build Rail Better" Renderings

Statement from Kirk Caldwell, former Managing Director and Acting Mayor, and Candidate for Mayor of the City and County of Honolulu: 

I support rail transit. I’ve been working to bring it to reality for years.

Today I am calling for a modification to the contracting process for the design of the Phase IV/City Center stretch of the rail transit line.  

I am asking that a review be done with community input to see where more appropriate design can be implemented, and more cost savings may be possible.  

Done properly, this review should not result in any delay to the project’s final completion, nor will it go beyond the framework established in the Federal EIS.

The review will provide a critical last look at station locations, architecture, visual impacts and other considerations of the in-town segments of the rail transit project.

Ben Cayetano’s single-minded mantra is “just say no.” Peter Carlisle’s view is “my way or the highway.”

I’m saying “build rail better.” We can and we must find common ground to address legitimate concerns from our community to make rail more acceptable for more people throughout our island.

The first component of the review I am calling for is to truly and openly vet the community criticisms and concerns of the sections that run in-town. These are also the segments that receive the majority of criticism by some in the local design community.

The second component is called Peer Review, a review performed by design experts who were NOT involved in doing the original plans to see if they can be done better or less expensively. This is not unusual in large projects and I believe it can be done in an efficient and transparent manner.

This review will also give new HART CEO Dan Grabauskas – who I fully support ­– a chance to avoid being saddled with decisions made before his arrival, and to become personally involved, bringing his willingness to listen, and wealth of experience in project design and construction to bear on this most visible and critical phase of the project.

A big part of “building rail better” is listening to the people. Many of their worries are legitimate…this is a very expensive project; their concerns need to be heard, answered and addressed. And as construction enters Honolulu’s urban core, and some of the oldest and most historic portions of our city, we need to take extra care to ensure that we are being true to our community roots.

Here are some examples of building rail better:

  • Sense of place does matter. I believe the transit stations in mature neighborhoods should reflect what’s around them. Where we can design in a more historically or culturally correct fashion, we should. This can even apply to the rail columns and guideways themselves, especially in highly-visible areas like the Honolulu Harbor waterfront. The engineering know-how is there if we have the will to make it happen.
  • Beautify as we go. We have an opportunity to improve rail transit corridors. Move utilities underground and get rid of poles and power lines. Improve sidewalks and plant trees – hundreds of them – under and along the spans. Provide opportunities for small businesses in corridor communities. People living in these areas will be impacted by construction…let’s add improvements to their neighborhoods as well, so they will have more to show for being inconvenienced after the project is finished.
  • Start planning and sharing new bus routes now. Rail transit will make our bus system more effective and efficient. Rail transit will allow us to re-deploy buses to new routes islandwide. Shuttle buses running every five, ten or fifteen minutes from nearby rail stations to UH, Waikiki, hospitals and major employers. Additional express buses can be deployed to Leeward, Central, Windward and East Oahu. Let’s start planning these routes now, and sharing those plans with the public so they can see how service to their community will be enhanced.
  • The City should be moving on Transit Oriented Development immediately. Simply put, we are behind on TOD. The Mayor should exercise leadership and be working with the City Council in setting up rules and guidelines right now – instead of standing by passively and allowing this critical responsibility to be taken over by the State – so communities, developers and businesses can start getting involved with planning around rail stations as they are being designed and built by HART.

Finally, while we’re at it, let’s get some facts straight. 

Rail critics – including Ben Cayetano – have been fast and loose with the facts. Let’s set the record straight on just some of them.

  • The current $5.2 billion budget includes a very large contingency and adequate reserves for short-term financing. Reports that it will cost $7 billion or more are only scare tactics unsupported by anyone except Tea Party-style rail critics.
  • 25% of the construction budget has already been collected and 100% of costs will be collected by the time the system is completed. There will be no “mortgage” to pay in 2022 when the GET surcharge for the rail project ends.
  • Costs to operate rail transit will cost MUCH lower than a comparable bus system. In the long run, rail transit will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars compared to buses.
  • Despite what Ben keeps saying, other cities like Honolulu ARE building modern steel-wheel rail transit systems. Dallas, Seattle and Vancouver are just three recent examples. Those systems were completed on-time and on-budget, continue to expand, and are enjoying high ridership.
  • Bus Rapid Transit – BRT – is an absolute fantasy as an alternative to rail, especially in the way that Ben Cayetano seems to be proposing. Ben’s BRT would double-deck major lengths of highways or city streets ­– or both – and just consider what that will mean with years of lane closures during construction. Consider the massive off-ramps we would have to build in town, and all of the disruption and traffic snarls that would cause. Imagine current congested traffic lanes being reduced and dedicated only to buses. Finally, consider this: it will take hundreds of additional buses to provide the carrying capacity of rail during peak hours. That’s hundreds of additional buses an hour on our freeways, highways and city streets. Ben’s BRT will add MORE congestion in town, not reduce it. It will cost a fortune to operate. And by they way, there’s no funding whatsoever in place to pay for BRT.

Rail transit is about mobility for our young people who cannot or don’t want to drive, for seniors who want to age in place, for families who can’t afford a second or third car. It’s about getting to school, getting to work and getting home again to spend time with friends and loved ones.

Rail transit won’t fix everything in our community, not even 100% of our traffic woes. But it will make a difference for generations to come. Imagine our community without the Pali Highway, Likelike, H-1, H-2, H-3 or a widened Kalanianaole Highway to East Oahu.

Rail will provide major traffic relief to nearly half our island, and improve traffic overall for nearly everyone on Oahu. It will help us focus our development to be as smart as it can be, and help keep the country country, and by that I mean everywhere from Waimanalo, Kailua and Kaneohe to the North Shore and Leeward Coast.

Doing nothing is not an alternative. Traffic is slowly strangling our community.

Let’s build rail. But let’s build rail better.


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