It was the first full year of construction on the Honolulu rail project and there has been significant progress. Anyone who doubts this needs to take a drive out to Kapolei and follow the rail route to see for themselves. Visible construction now reaches all the way to Aloha Stadium. The guide way itself is moving from Waipahu into Pearl City and guide way columns are well into Pearl City. The preparatory work for column construction is past Pearl Ridge and the staging yard at Aloha Stadium is abuzz with activity. One important thing that can’t be seen is the seven column shafts for the Airport area. In a moment of foresight, this work was combined with the Airport expansion and was completed in the late summer.
The DPP-TOD team also saw solid progress in several areas including neighborhood planning for the Aloha Stadium and Airport area stations, the recommendation from the Planning Commission that the Waipahu TOD zoning and TOD Special District standards be sent to the City Council for approval, and great community partnerships in implementing the vision of the TOD plan for Chinatown.
While progress on construction was steady, HART came under fire for costs, traffic woes and a delayed response to the challenges businesses impacted by rail construction would experience. The sorely needed extension of the rail tax inched its way through the City Council where what most agree is a workable form of the extension passed the last week of January 2016.
Anyone who is paying attention understands the challenges facing the project and most of them also understand undertaking a public works project of this size and transformative nature is bound to have setbacks. What many don’t understand is a perceived reluctance from our elected leaders, HART executives and the media to explore and explain in greater detail the benefits of building the rail.
The constant drip, drip, drip of negativity has taken its toll on public opinion. A counterbalance is needed and I and many others spend a not inconsiderable amount of time articulating the benefits of the project and the opportunity it presents to create integrated communities through thoughtful development, re-development and putting the quality of human experience first and foremost.
When I hear the cries of “It’s too expensive!”, “We can’t afford it!” I ask “How can we not afford it?” If we do not do this, the costs in human, environmental, cultural and economic terms will be beyond what our island can endure. What is the cost to our community when people sit in traffic for hours each day? What about the health impacts? The loss of family and personal time, never mind the costs in lost productivity? The toll on the environment and road blocks to our goal of a sustainable island economy are very real as well.
If you consider the rail project to be a single spoke in the creation of an integrated community where there is housing people can afford, access to transportation that isn’t primarily dependent upon the automobile, health and sustainability are a priority and economic activity is encouraged, you can see that we need to get from here to there. We do this by engaging, educating and sharing the vision.