HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new Hawaii Poll shows the majority of Oahu voters surveyed do not want to move ahead with the controversial $5.3 billion transit system. As the city gets ready for advanced construction, the Ward Research poll conducted for Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser revealed that support for rail is slipping.
43% of those surveyed think work should proceed. 53% want the project to stop. 4% didn't know or refused to answer. A Hawaii Poll conducted last May showed 49% approved and 45% disapproved. 6% didn't know or refused to answer.
"Now a majority of the people say that they don't want to proceed with rail," explained Richard Borreca, political columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "This is the beginning of a big, serious reversal."
The poll indicated solid support for rail among those who usually vote Democrat, and residents living from Waianae to Pearl City. There was strong opposition, however, from those who identify themselves as independents and Republicans. Most of the residents surveyed in Windward Oahu, North Shore, and urban Honolulu also wanted the project to stop. The margin of error on the 2012 rail question was plus or minus 4.2%.
"I think that people are catching on to the fact that traffic congestion is not going to be improved with rail," said rail opponent Cliff Slater.
"The city though HART (Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) has been letting out the contracts. They're trying to get this thing to a point where people will say, 'Well, it's too late. Nothing can be done,'" said former governor and rail opponent Ben Cayetano.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation last week received federal approval to spend $185 million to begin building the foundation and pillars along the first stretch of the rail line. Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said the city needs to do a better job of correcting misinformation and letting people know that the project will create jobs and take vehicles off Oahu's crowded roads.
"They have reasons for concern when you hear about Ansaldo, when you hear about cost overruns, when you hear about lawsuits," Carlisle said. "We need to basically change the way we're doing this in terms of getting the message out and why this is good for everybody."
One potential threat is a federal lawsuit filed by Cayetano and other high-profile critics.
"Why are you gambling with the people's money when you don't have a full funding agreement? Don Horner with First Hawaiian, would he loan money to a guy who has already started to build his house?" questioned Cayetano.
"People are saying, 'Wait a minute, maybe we should really take a look at this thing again,' and they should take a look at it again, and once they do they'll realize exactly why people agreed to have this in 2008," Carlisle said.
The 20-mile rail system from East Kapolei to Ala Moana is scheduled to open in 2019.