When Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ran for office he promised to be “hands on” and “build rail better.”

But now that the controversial project is going over budget by as much as $700 million he seems to be backing away from that pledge in hopes of avoiding the political fallout.

That’s the thrust of a Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial that published in the newspaper Wednesday.

Vehicles head down Kualakai Parkway near Kapolei with concrete rail (foundations) in the background.  Kapolei, Hawaii. 14 November 2014. photograph Cory Lum

Honolulu’s rail project is now estimated to cost nearly $6 billion, which is much higher than the $5.2 billion that was promised.

Cory Lum / Civil Beat

The newspaper’s editorial board criticized the mayor for shirking his responsibility when it comes to convincing lawmakers to extend a half-percent surcharge on the general excise tax.

Caldwell has indicated that work will be left up to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas, a political appointee who doesn’t have to worry about re-election.

As the editorial board put it:

That’s a disappointing stance from a mayor who campaigned on the promise to “build rail better,” and was elected in 2012 in part due to his support for rail transit and his pledges to “ensure better station design, less visual impact, tighter financial controls, and paying attention to community concerns.”

In other words, Caldwell promised a nervous public that he would make sure rail was built right. It’s time for him to make good on his promise — not hand it off to someone else.

One of the biggest community concerns these days is how to pay for rail, and the mayor must be front-and-center leading this discussion. Grabauskas unquestionably adds important information and insight, but as an appointee not directly accountable to the voting public, he should not dictate the source of needed funds, especially when that source will further burden taxpayers.

It’s Caldwell’s duty to be a leader in the debate, the paper says. He owes it to taxpayers and the voting public.

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