The last time voters had a direct say on Honolulu rail was in 2008 when a slim majority approved the project.

Now that the project costs much more than projected, and with public officials talking about stopping it at Middle Street before finding the funds to build all the way to Ala Moana Center, a new group proposes that voters weigh in once again.

Leaders of a hui called Make Rail Affordable launched a campaign Tuesday to gather the necessary signatures to have a ballot question before voters as soon as possible.

“Today, Oahu’s taxpayers take control of our city government’s increasingly unaffordable rail project, taking it away from the politicians who got us into this mess, away from the politicians who repeatedly lied to the public to push this project along for the financial benefit of their campaign contributors,” said Eric Ryan, the group’s campaign manager who was involved with the Stop Rail Now campaign eight years ago.

Make Rail Affordable Middle Street. Left-Right, Emil Svrcina, Central Oahu Coordinator, Make Rail Affordable silhouetted at left speaks to media at the Middle Street Bus terminal. 19 july 2016
Make Rail Affordable’s central Oahu coordinator, Emil Svrcina, at left, speaks to media at the Middle Street bus terminal during a press conference Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

He added, “Despite the avalanche of bad news, these politicians and the rail cartel somehow think that people are just going to somehow sit back and take it. We’re not. They’re wrong. The fight starts today.”

Ryan said Make Rail Affordable would go door to door, online and through social media to sign up 45,000 people, which he said would put the question on the 2018 general election ballot.

Better yet, he said, is the goal of 79,000 signatures, which he said could lead to a special election in early 2017.

The ballot question would call for revising city ordinances to shorten the rail line to Middle Street, which is where Make Rail Affordable held its press announcement.

Otherwise, warned Ryan, the cost of the project could grow to $30 billion, once the full project is built out to West Kapolei, Waikiki and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Meanwhile, traffic congestion is likely to worsen.

Marissa Kerns, a Leeward resident helping coordinate the campaign, said, “The city and the Council, the mayor, the governor, the state Legislature and everybody in Washington, D.C., know that taxpayers are still going to be on the hook.”

Acknowledging that Honolulu limits voter initiatives by not allowing changes to taxes, spending, salaries or union agreements, Ryan said, “The ordinance we seek to change has no dollars attached to it. It is simply a route. Naturally, we expect Corporation Counsel, PRP and others to whine. But the ordinance has nothing to do with spending or taxes. It’s just the route.”

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