Editor’s note: Here’s a link to Sen. Daniel Inouye’s press release on the announcement that the federal government had given Honolulu permission to begin construction of the rail project.

But for the trees, our good senator, can’t see the forest.

Here are some important facts the senator may have overlooked: According to the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) and state studies the City’s rail project is likely to cost $7 – not $5 billion. It is an ugly, elevated heavy rail system that is obsolete. No other city Honolulu’s size and population is building such a monstrosity. It will change the character of our city for worse and will destroy or unearth ancient burial grounds and iwi. In its EIS the City concedes rail will not reduce future traffic congestion below current levels — a statement with which the FTA agreed on page 208 of its Record of Decision. So why does the senator want taxpayers to spend $5.27 billion for an alternative mode of transportation when Honolulu’s bus system is ranked the best in the nation? Why not improve the bus system with the new electric powered or hybrid buses and run them on dedicated lanes as many other cities are doing? It would be far less costly and could be done within a fraction of the time it will take to build rail.

As for the senator’s comment that “there are a lot of things involved in the management of a large city like Honolulu, a city that represents over half (900,000 to be more exact) the population of the whole state”, I agree. But he forgets that the people gave me the privilege of governing the population of the entire state — 1.2 million residents — for eight years during some tough economic times. And the good senator apparently approved of my performance by endorsing me in my 1994 and 1998 elections. Governors don’t have the luxury of focusing only on single issues — legislators do.

The city faces enormous challenges, among them: EPA mandated sewer upgrades estimated at $5 billion, upgrades and repairs to a water system — which in 2011 had a water main break nearly every day — also estimated at $5 billion, re-paving the city’s pothole filled roads at an estimated cost of $1.6 billion; repairing long neglected storm drains — $800 million.

Sewage and water fees have already increased dramatically and will continue to do so. Oahu residents pay the highest price per gallon of gasoline in the nation and Hawaiian Electric has gone to the extent of running television commercials to warn Oahu residents that their electricity rates are going to be increased substantially. Add to this sad scenario the fact that the state and counties Employment Retirement System (ERS) and the Employee’s Union Trust Fund (EUTF) face unfunded liabilities of $9 and $14 billion respectively and one understands why studies have concluded that among cities with a population of less than one million — Honolulu is the most unaffordable city in the nation. Small wonder that every year thousands of our young people leave Hawaii to live on the mainland.

After ten years in retirement I decided to run for Mayor because I believe that adding $5 to $7 billion in debt for an elevated, heavy rail system that will not reduce traffic congestion and will suck the air out of the city’s ability to provide more important basic services does not make sense. There is an 800 pound gorilla sitting in the middle of the room and the good senator just doesn’t see it.

About the author: Ben Cayetano is a candidate for Honolulu mayor.