HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Governor Abercrombie has been a staunch supporter of rail for four decades and fought for Congressional funding for years, but in an interview on Hawaii News Now Sunrise, he raised questions about the project's current form.
"The difficulty right now is that the rail that's proposed right now has nothing to do with what was stated before, going to the university, going into Waikiki, the transit-oriented development," says Mr. Abercrombie.
The Governor said the contentious debate will be decided when voters choose the next Honolulu mayor. "And then, whatever comes out of that, I'm going to support. We have to have alternative transportation from the west side of the island of Oahu, but what form it's going to take, I think is going to be settled in August with the election."
"The dominos are just falling." Rail opponent Cliff Slater says the more the public finds out about the project, the more opposition grows. He calls Abercrombie's comments a good sign. "He's not saying he's opposed to rail, but his body language is telling everything there. He's really getting cold feet," says Slater.
Proponents see it differently - saying the Governor reiterated his support for the project. They point out it was Abercrombie who got the ball rolling by signing its environmental impact statement.
"I think he was probably voicing what a lot of us are observing, pretty obviously, which is that there is a lot of controversy and questions about this project as it nears its beginnings," says the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO Dan Grabauskas.
The Honolulu electorate voted in favor of rail back in 2008, but the losing side has kept up an organized campaign against it ever since.
Since the Governor pointed to the importance of the Honolulu mayor's race, we reached out to each of the candidates. Incumbent Peter Carlisle - a proponent of rail - says he wants to talk to Governor Abercrombie before responding. Rail opponent, Ben Cayetano, says he has no comment. And rail supporter Kirk Caldwell released this statement:
"I agree with the Governor. We both support rail and the Mayor needs to do a better job managing the project. In fact, when Governor Abercrombie signed the project's EIS, just days after he took office the Governor said: "Now is our opportunity to strengthen our commitment to ensuring that the project is done right, without delay and with a vision of Oahu's future clearly in mind".
Furthermore, in a letter to city Department of Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka the Governor said "My acceptance of the statement is an affirmation of the adequacy of that statement under the applicable laws," and, "I find that the mitigation measures proposed in the environmental impact statement will minimize the negative impacts of the project."
It's clear to me that the Governor is a strong supporter of this rail project. Now, as to the management of the project, here again, the Governor and I agree, the Mayor needs to do a better job.
And, at the end of the day, this project is about "transportation equity" The folks who live west of the H1-H2 merge deserve a viable mass transportation alternative. And as Mayor, I'll see that they get it."