Hawaii struggles with rail transit

Stephen Pagano, Reporter

From the very beginning when the Honolulu officials started to talk about building a 20 mile elevated train line near the southern coast of the island of O’ahu, there were a lot of concerns. One of them were:  How much would it cost? What would it do to the character of the island that has long prided itself on its natural beauty? Can an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean handle that kind of ambitious public works project like the ones in Boston and New York?

Eight years after the initial vote to approve of this project clearing for the construction of the rail line, many are still skeptical, especially after the 40 years of debate once Neil S. Blaisdell former mayor brought this up.

The project was originally projected to cost $4.6 billion dollars, but the cost has now risen to $6.7 billion, forcing the city in January to approve a 5 year extension of a general excise tax surcharge to help cover the overrun. Some say that this project might hit $9 billion.

City officials are awaiting the opening of two sets of bids, covering the last 10 miles of the project to see if that is enough. At the current rate this project is going, city officials said, it could have  the distinction of being on a per-capita basis, the most expensive transit project in the country’s history. In a state that also has the highest per capita cost of living in the country.

The train, which will take passengers from this city in western Oahu to the edge of Waikiki, is at least two years behind schedule, set for opening at the end of 2021. As construction jams traffic and upends neighborhoods, a poll conducted in February by Civil Beat, a Hawaii news site, found out that a big number of people considered the rail plan a bad idea or are troubled by the progress in the construction. Only 16 percent of people thought that this was still a good idea.

“I believe the rail project will make getting around Honolulu a lot simpler and easier for a large majority of our community,” said Gov. David Ige, a Democrat. “I do believe it’s important.”