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Citizens at the meeting hit HART Interim Executive Director Toru Hamayasu with pointed questions. And several in attendance questioned after the meeting whether the project was worth the public’s dime at all.
It was a shift in tone from a similar meeting held the previous night in Kapolei — the proposed starting point for the rail line. There, the crowd was positive, and almost seemed impatient for the project to begin.
Hamayasu gave the same presentation at both meetings. He laid out contract and financing details for the multi-billion dollar project and showed artists’ renderings of a handful of proposed rail stations. He said he believed the project would help ease future traffic congestion. Then he turned the meeting over to questions.
But whereas roughly 100 citizens attended the Kapolei meeting, the East Honolulu meeting at Kalani High School drew less than half that crowd — about 40 people. HART organizers said they expected about that many to show up.
City Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka and HART board Chairwoman Carrie Okinaga were in attendance. Absent from the crowd were any of the four well-known rail critics Cliff Slater, Ben Cayetano, Randy Roth and Walter Heen.
In Kapolei, men wearing Hawaii Carpenters Union t-shirts — who could be hired to work the project — sat in the front rows. In East Honolulu, there were no rows of men in union shirts. HART staffers sat in the front while the public listened from behind.
In Kapolei, two women stood up to pledge their support for the project. In East Honolulu, one man told the room that he thought the city could afford rail and had a good financial plan. But that was only after he got over serious doubts about whether the city had the money, he said.
Waikiki resident Mark Torreano — who is not a rail supporter — asked if the city had a backup funding plan if the federal government cut its spending on the program.
While the city expects a $1.55 billion federal pledge to come through, Hamayasu acknowledged that it’s possible that amount could drop. In that case, he said, the city would have to borrow more money.
Christopher Messer, a Hawaii Kai resident, said after the meeting he thought the project could take longer than the expected eight years to build. He’s worked in construction, he said, and he knows projects can start to drag.
Both Messer and Torreano emphasized that they thought the project would only benefit some in Oahu, compared with an extensive sewer maintenance project, which would benefit the whole city, they said.
The large posters and sleek videos didn’t sway Messer.
“I feel like I’m being given a sales pitch every time I’m here,” he said.
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