Honolulu breaks ground on rail transit project

Peter Carlisle
Peter Carlisle
Daniel Inouye
Daniel Inouye

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

KAPOLEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Critics say it's all for show but rail supporters see today's ceremonial rail transit groundbreaking as an important milestone.  Construction on the actual tracks is still months away and there are remaining hurdles which include money and lawsuits but the mayor is brushing those concerns off.

It was a moment 52 years in the making.  One that many politicians tried and failed to accomplish in the past, but now the ceremonial turning of the soil with the o'o sticks to mark the groundbreaking.

"It's been a long time coming and now that's its started its going to be a long time going on hallelujah!" said Peter Carlisle, Honolulu Mayor.

"We are also witnessing the realization of a dream that took many years and many attempts to finally become a reality," said Nestor Garcia, Honolulu City Council Chair.

Of course there is still more to do.  A big factor is money.  The next two developer contracts should be awarded within a month and the next financial plan will depend on those bid figures. That's the iffy part according to the rail project manager.

"The reason we're shaky about that is because it goes through so many reviews," said Toru Hamayasu, Rail Project General Manager.

It's still about another year and a half before the city finds out if Congress will hand over the full $1.55 billion rail supporters are banking on.

"It is true that the money for the remaining phases is not here yet but I am assured by my colleagues that they'll be forthcoming," said Sen. Daniel Inouye, (D) Hawaii. "As long as I'm there as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee I will make certain."

In the meantime funding for the first six and a half miles of track is in place and the city is pressing on.  They plan to start moving utilities along the route in April and they could start building the actual first set of elevated tracks this fall.  Hamayasu says be ready to ride in three years, but where will it go?

"Around here," laughed Hamayasu.

It's funny because there's not much out here yet except fields of very tall weeds.

The Salvation Army Kroc Center is going up, which will have banquet facilities, a preschool, a performing arts center and recreational facilities.  And the first station will go to the new University of Hawaii West Oahu, but that needs to be built as well.

Protestors worry about the funding, because if the money for the rest of the route doesn't come in, the city will be left with a train to nowhere.

"Every other transit system starts in the middle of the population not out in empty fields," said Pearl Chang Johnson, League of Women Voters.

Protestors planted themselves right across the street from the ceremony and put up balloons to show just how high the elevated train will be.

"The actual station is like a football field over where we are today," said Panos Prevedouros, University of Hawaii at Manoa Engineering Professor. "It is easier to defeat mega projects like this when the environmental process is botched and the environmental process for this project was botched."

The environmental impact statement is finished and approved, still protestors say two lawsuits have been filed and more are in the works. But the mayor wasn't letting legal talk ruin his day.

"You can't breathe without getting lawsuits; some of you poor people probably haven't had a lawsuit or two. I can't even count them.  I get so happy that if I go one month without a lawsuit I figure I'm asleep. They'll do that, they'll bring anything they'll complain," said Carlisle.

Another reason the mayor is eager to get building is because of the 1,000 rail related jobs that will be created this year.

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