Rail is now expected to cost at least $10 billion, which is more than double the original estimate. Furthermore, the city admits that rail operations and maintenance would have to be subsidized by about $140 million annually in taxes.

Oahu residents are increasingly frustrated with the way rail has been handled, and most want to stop the bleeding. However, they also want to get at least something out of the money that has already been spent.

No station has yet been built, but there are roughly 10 miles of elevated guideway running from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium. Some imagination would be required, but surely this guideway could be repurposed to create something beneficial to the community — something that would not cost billions more to complete and $140 million each year to operate.

One idea is to convert the elevated guideway into a Skyway for walking, jogging and biking to encourage healthy lifestyles. A roof could be added for shade and shelter.

Photovoltaic cells could be installed above the roof to create a source of revenue and to move Hawaii toward achieving its clean energy goals.

The Coulée Verte in Paris could be the inspiration for a Skyway rather than rail in Honolulu.

Flickr: Jean-Louis Zimmermann

Native plants could be grown on the Skyway to create a welcoming atmosphere.

Access to the Skyway could be provided at places where the rail stations are supposed to be located. The unobstructed ocean views on one side and mountain views on the other would be unparalleled.

The Skyway might even become a popular tourist attraction due to its proximity to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.

The Skyway concept draws inspiration from New York City’s High Line Park, a 1.5-mile linear park created on an elevated section of an obsolete spur of the New York Central Railroad.

That, in turn, was inspired by the Coulée Verte (“green course”), a 3-mile linear park built on obsolete railway infrastructure in Paris, France.

These projects have inspired similar projects in other cities.

Another reason for re-purposing the elevated guideway is that heavy rail will soon be obsolete. Toyota, Tesla, Ford, GM, Volkswagen and BMW all expect to be manufacturing self-driving cars well before rail’s projected completion in 2024.

Self-driving cars will enable commuters to get to and from work much more easily. Those living in West and Central Oahu, for example, will be able to work on their computers, watch a movie, make calls, or even take a nap during their ride to town.

Self-driving cars will communicate with each other by computer, allowing cars headed in the same direction on the freeway to “draft” close to each other, much like bicycle riders in a race. This will increase highway capacity and reduce traffic congestion.

If rail is built, the annual cost of operating and maintaining an outdated system would be a crushing burden on taxpayers.

All is not lost, however, as the elevated guideway that has already been built can be re-purposed. A Skyway for walking, jogging, biking and sightseeing would turn a boondoggle into a community benefit. 

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Columns generally run about 800 words (yes, they can be shorter or longer) and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.com.

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