Related articles in this special report include:


One thing became clear during the recent mayoral campaign.

Despite the efforts of former Mayor Mufi Hannemann to make the proposed $5.5 billion Honolulu rail project seem inevitable, many still have questions about whether it’s the best transportation solution for the city.

So a couple of months ago, Civil Beat asked Doug Carlson, a rail advocate who works for the city and has been a frequent contributor to Civil Beat’s rail discussions, and Cliff Slater, perhaps the most determined critic of the plan, to answer some fundamental questions about how we ended up here and whether the project is worth supporting.

As we told them: “The purpose of this debate is to help residents of Honolulu answer the question whether the city’s proposed rail project is a worthwhile investment, one that deserves their support.”

Well, as you might guess, it’s been a lot more difficult to get this done than we ever imagined. Among the reasons: We’re not just delivering you their answers; we’ve researched the accuracy of what they told us. Veteran Honolulu journalist Greg Wiles took on the task and his labors on the first question are done.

We asked: “Did the process that culminated in the current city proposal adequately evaluate what would be the most cost-effective transit solution to best serve the largest number of people? Please explain.”

What the city believes is clear — or at least it has been. That’s why it’s moving forward with the rail project. But as of Monday the leadership team that has been pushing rail has been replaced with a new duo at the top — former Prosecutor Peter Carlisle and his former deputy, Doug Chin. The two men say they’re just as committed to seeing the proposal become reality as Hannemann and his former top aide, Kirk Caldwell.

Slater, on the other hand, favors what’s known as the managed lane alternative, essentially elevated lanes set aside for toll traffic, vanpools and buses. He argues that this would be cheaper and more effective in reducing congestion.

The series of articles that follows includes the complete responses from the city (Carlson’s side was ultimately taken up by Honolulu Hale itself) and Slater as well as our evaluation of the responses of both sides.

Here’s a quick summary of what we heard:

Summary of City and County of Honolulu’s response: “We’ve been over this before.” The fixed guideway is a policy of the City and County of Honolulu. Voters on Oahu affirmed the policy when they approved the rail transit City Charter Amendment in 2008. Prior to completion of the transit Draft EIS, a full range of reasonable alternatives was evaluated at three stages. The Alternatives Analysis recommended, and the City Council identified, the Fixed Guideway Alternative as the Locally Preferred Alternative. A fixed guideway system would improve public transit performance and reliability, be more cost-effective than other alternatives and substantially reduce traffic delay for all travelers, not just public transit users.

Summary of Cliff Slater’s response: The city didn’t adequately evaluate alternatives to rail, both the No Build and the Managed Lane Alternatives. Had the city found a credible cost projection for the Managed Lane Alternative, retained the zipper lane, reduced the buses needed to a level commensurate with ridership increases, reduced the park-and-ride stalls to appropriate levels, and recognize that it would be beneficial to avoid an elevated railway/highway through historic sections of town then the Managed Lane Alternative would have been a clear winner.

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