Mission creep, quagmire, or a visionless project

One of the first things that were disturbing about the debate over the Honolulu rail system (otherwise known as the Honolulu mass-transit project) was the fact that no one at Honolulu Hale could succinctly come up with what the vision of the endeavor was.

File:Honolulu Rail Transit First Trainset 2017-02-18.jpg
There have been a plethora of reasons for building the rail, but no one has come up with a cohesive vision as to why – maybe now HART and their overpriced consultants could do that, for the people’s sake
PC: The first trainset for the w:en: Honolulu Rail Transit project on display at the HART vehicle maintenance facility in Pearl City, Hawaii by Musashi1600
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States license

Of course, you heard the typical reasons why Honolulu needed to have a mass transit system – gridlock on the freeways, inability to move around the island efficiently, the need to move people from the suburbs (known as Kapolei, ironically called at one time “the second city”). But in all this, there was no “vision” that pictured a reason why the government of the City and County of Honolulu was about to embark on a multi-billion dollar project to create a 23-mile train line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center, downtown.

And the lack of that clear vision is coming back to haunt the people of Honolulu as we endure yet another string of bad news when it comes to the project.

From the $5 billion-dollar range when first presented back in 2004, the price tag for this has now ballooned to something in the range of $12 billion. A project that was supposed to be done in seven years will now take about 26 years from inception, to finally complete. The project’s most challenging portion to build through, the Dillingham corridor, is going to take way more money than what was budgeted to plow the rail through.

And it goes on and on and on.

Yet, to this day, if one were to ask what is the reason why we need such a transit system, you get a lot of people saying a lot of things, if only to affirm their vision of the project. For those who would use it – an easy way to get from the west side to downtown.

For the tourism industry, a cheaper alternative to get tourists closer to Waikīkī from the Airport.

For the government (city and county), the ability to provide transportation but also to help land price assessments increase, thereby raking in more property taxes to pay for that and everything else.

For construction workers, the ability to work in Hawai‘i even though a lot of said workers are not from Hawai‘i, but from the mainland as its both cheaper and faster to ship in the technical workers to build the thing than to train our people here, first, to be the builders.

And finally, the property owners and developers, whom this project has given increased value to their properties, a value they don’t want to lose now that there is talk that the line will be stopped short, at Middle St.

File:Honolulu Rail Transit map with extensions.svg
As you can tell, the system was supposed to be done in four years. Now it will be 2030+ before the City Center part comes into play. And I think right now everyone is saying, about expansion “forget it”
PC; Honolulu Rail Transit map with proposed extensions (unfunded) in red.by Mliu92
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Yes, these are all visions, but it does not answer the question of “why in all that is holy we are even building this thing?” None of the politicians that have been part of this have been able to articulate it, and even our Federal Government which is giving $1.55 billion to this project, does not seem able or willing to help us come up with that vision.

Here is an idea about what the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) could do to get people’s opinions about the project more positive – simply put – create a vision. After all, they have the high priced smart people who work at 1099 Alakea St. Suite 1700 (HART’s downtown offices) that not only could come up with one, but then work to sell it to the people, giving them some idea of what this is all about, and why we have to spend the money we need to spend.

Maybe that is the first thing they should be working on, rather than working on a continual campaign of covering the Authority’s’ butt whenever bad news comes out. Maybe then we can move the debate from this long-suffering “should we continue” to “we know what we want this thing to do, now let’s figure that out”

Because if that does not happen, and soon, what will be perceived as a white elephant, albatross, a project with no end and a quagmire that we can’t get out of, will become a permanent reality in the minds of the people of Hawai‘i.

And in the end, get nothing for it.