Editor’s note: Rail opponents Ben Cayetano, Walter Heen, Randall Roth and Cliff Slater wrote this article in response to a piece by the Civil Beat Editorial Board examining their claim that city leaders had misled the public about rail’s impact on congestion.

Civil Beat can take pride in knowing it is the first news outlet to explain fully to its readers why the City’s proposed heavy rail system will not reduce current levels of traffic congestion. It comes more than a year after the City admitted in the EIS that “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today without rail,” but late is better than never.

In analyzing our charge that the City misled the public by creating the impression that rail would reduce traffic congestion from current levels, Civil Beat went to extraordinary lengths trying to convince its readers we were wrong. Civil Beat argued that although City officials and an official City brochure repeatedly used phrases like “reduce traffic congestion” and “alleviate traffic congestion,” no one from the City ever said publicly that rail would reduce traffic congestion from current levels.

Nevertheless, Civil Beat admitted that headlines can be misleading and used as an example the City’s 8-page color brochure with the headline, “How does rail help reduce traffic congestion?” “It’s true,” Civil Beat wrote, “that if people didn’t read any further (than the headline) they might have been left with the impression that traffic congestion would be reduced from today’s levels … but the text below the headline makes clear that the city is talking about future congestion.”

The problem, of course, is that many people read headlines of brochures and never get to the fine print. The public expects the City to be candid and transparent in promoting any government project. This particular headline helped reinforce the impression that rail would “help to reduce traffic congestion” from current levels.

This thought finds support in a 2009 Honolulu Advertiser poll which asked people to respond to the following statement: “We need a light rail system in order to reduce traffic congestion and commute times along H-1.” An overwhelming 73% of the respondents agreed with the statement, which strongly suggests that they viewed rail as a solution to reducing the current level of traffic congestion.

How many of the 73% were aware that traffic congestion would get worse even if rail were to be built? Very few we suspect. Surely DTS Director Wayne Yoshioka and Mayor Mufi Hannemann knew. Yet when asked about this issue, both Yoshioka and Hannemann dodged the question and even accused the questioners of trying to confuse the issue.

We will spare Civil Beat readers from our own long list of misleading quotes from Hannemann and City officials. However, we submit two very important quotes ignored by Civil Beat, one by Hannemann the other by Yoshioka, that show how they tried to obfuscate the issue:

(1) When asked about the statement “The City admits future traffic congestion will be worse with rail than it is today,” Yoshioka – described by several city council members as “visibly upset” – replied:

“This is a cleverly crafted statement that knowingly uses only part of the information available. The Alternative Analysis shows that a fixed guideway will reduce future traffic congestion between Kapolei and Honolulu by 11 percent.”

Yoshioka was not being asked about the Alternative Analysis. His non-responsive answer only obfuscated the issue.

(2) During the 2008 Mayoral debate before a statewide television audience and a packed auditorium (video available at http://www.fixoahunow.com/video/2206164:Video:2811) the question came up again. If Civil Beat had been around in those days, it might now recall the following exchange between UH Professor Panos Prevedouros and Mayor Hannemann:

PREVEDOUROS (addressing this directly to Hannemann): “The city’s own studies forecast future traffic congestion will be far worse than it is today. True, yes or no?
HANNEMANN: “You are wordsmithing again here. In terms of your actual interpretation of the Alternatives Analysis. They looked at all the modes of travel including your very favorite HOT lanes. What it said was of all of them this would reduce traffic congestion the best of them and that’s steel on steel by 11 percent. The system that you prefer would actually increase traffic by 1 percent – by 0.4 percent …. Therefore, to answer your question with a simple yes or no is not correct. Professor, you are distorting the facts.”

The questions posed to Hannemann and Yoshioka were not about the Alternative Analysis. In Hannemann’s case it was a simple yes or no question about whether the level of traffic congestion would get worse even with rail. A simple “yes” followed by an explanation would have helped to clear up the issue. Instead, both men dodged the question.

Hannemann and Yoshioka are intelligent men. They realized that if the people knew the $5.3 billion rail project would not improve traffic congestion from the current levels, they might have second thoughts about whether the project would be worth the cost.

Taxpayers have the right to expect truthfulness and transparency from their public servants. They did not get it from Hannemann and Yoshioka.