Taken in the mass, the automobile is a noxious mechanism whose destiny in workaday urban use is to frustrate man and make dead certain that he approaches his daily occupation unhappy and inefficient.  So said Honolulu Mayor Neal Blaisdell in 1966.  He suggested a rail line as a solution to alleviate traffic problems.

Mayor Frank Fasi started planning for a rail project called HART in 1977.  Mayor Eileen Anderson cancelled HART in 1981.  Fearless Frank restarted HART in 1986.  His second effort was stopped by the Honolulu City Council in 1992.  Mayor Jeremy Harris unsuccessfully pursued a bus rapid transit project as an interim solution until he left office in 2004.

Shortly after winning the 2004 election Mayor Mufi Hannemann prioritized the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project (HHCTCP) the city’s fourth attempt to build a mass transit system.  The Hawaii Legislature provided legislation to allow counties a .5 percent increase in the Hawaii General Excise Tax (GET) from 4 percent to 4.5 percent to fund transportation projects.

Construction equipment along Kualakai Parkway near Kapolei with concrete rail (foundations) in the background.  Kapolei, Hawaii. 14 November 2014. photograph Cory Lum

Construction equipment works along Kualakai Parkway near Kapolei last week as the Honolulu rail project takes shape.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The effort to build the rail produced an epic political and legal battle that produced winners and losers.  The anti-rail forces represented by the Stop Rail Now group included businessman Cliff Slater, law professor Randall Roth and former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Their combined efforts have cost the citizens of Honolulu millions of dollars. So if they say “I told you so” as costs go up, just reply “You made it so.”

HART CEO Dan Grabauskas tells me that direct legal costs for the federal lawsuit brought by the group surpassed $3 million. Indirect costs included “hundreds if not thousands of hours of staff time to collect the 150,000 page administrative record and other supporting documents and testimony and prep time,” Grabauskas says.

“As a result of the judges injunction against the project regarding property acquisition during deliberations, we lost nearly a full year of time during which we were supposed to be acquiring properties,” he continues.

To make up for lost time, the time HART board approved a change order valued at nearly $3.5 million aimed at accelerating property acquisition in order to stay on track.

A separate legal action, before the Hawaii Supreme Court, cost as many millions of dollars in delays to construction. “We were shut down for nearly 13 months,” Grabauskas tells me. “The cost for those delays now number in the many tens of millions. Probably on the order of $55 million for direct costs attributable to the delay and additional costs attributable to escalation of the project cost due to the state case delay.”

Since I have never wavered as being avidly pro-rail I will take the liberty to rank my gold, silver and bronze contributors of the Go Rail and Build Rail forces.  It is limited to policy makers rather than those who did the real work such as architects, engineers, laborers and so forth.

We all know the choice for the Gold Medal is a foregone conclusion.  My favorite Sen. Dan Inouye story about rail involved his multiple trips during peak traffic hours from Kapolei to the Federal Building downtown.  As the traffic around Dan crawled at its usual glacial pace or morphed into a parking lot due to accident or stall, his blood boiled at the frustration, unhappiness and inefficiency that surrounded him.

The Silver Medal goes to the other Dan — Grabauskas, who is also the executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. His credentials include chairman and senior strategic adviser of the Bronner Center for Transportation Management and general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston. The MBTA consists of subway, commuter rail, bus and boat operations throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Dan’s wealth of experience, his understanding of the political, practical, transformative implications of HART and his long-term commitment and affection for Honolulu make him the ideal choice for the Silver Medal.

After careful consideration I have decided the Bronze Medal is up for grabs.  There are a whole bunch of people who made gigantic contributions for rail.  Included in the many deserving consideration are:

• Sen. Mazie Hirono, who while as a congresswoman through her efforts the House Transportation Committee was key to the project’s success. She introduced me to key members of Congress and it’s funding.

• the Carpenters Union and Pacific Resource Partnership, the voice of rail

• Mayor Hannemann for funding

• The Legislature that allowed the GET increase

• then-City Council Chair Todd Apo for Airport and Pearl Harbor routing

• former Councilman Breene Harimoto for tireless work as Transportation Chair

• the legal warriors of Corporation Counsel

• the Department of Transportation Services

This holiday season I encourage all of you to visit Kapolei and Kapolei Hale via the North South Road. Take a look at the rail project.  You will be looking at a gift that will benefit generations upon generations to come.

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