Carlisle on Rail: 'We Need to Keep Moving Forward'

Courtesy of Honolulu For Rail Growth

Mayor Peter Carlisle devoted a section of his State of the City speech to the rail project. Here's the entire prepared text of that portion.

What is your response to the mayor's statements about the rail project? What questions to you have?

Share your thoughts by commenting below.

We cannot talk about infrastructure and the future of Honolulu without me speaking about transportation, and more specifically, the rail project. This much I know. Honolulu has some of the nation’s worst traffic. Every artery entering the urban core already experiences traffic bottlenecks – at the H-1 H-2 interchange, near the Middle Street exit, and the University area on H-1. It is only getting worse. We are on a path of more cars, more roads and more traffic congestion.

The future depends on a better approach. Rail transit will finally bring relief to our residents who face, morning after morning and night after night, nothing but the brake lights of the car in front of them.

And, by reducing the amount of cars on the road that run on fossil fuel and replacing them with a rail system, we can reduce our pollution and dependence on foreign oil.

It’s about the future, not the past.

If you live outside the route, you might think rail does nothing for you. I suggest to you that it does. With the growth of O‘ahu’s population come more personal vehicles. Without significant traffic alternatives for the West side, people will look for and demand other places to live.

Rail will ‘keep the country, country’. It will ‘keep Kailua, Kailua’. It will ‘keep East Honolulu, East Honolulu’. It will preserve a way of life for smaller communities on the North Shore or the Windward side. These can see less growth in their areas because the rail system is designed to allow the areas from Kapolei to the urban core to accommodate our island’s expected population growth. Unless we want more growth everywhere else on the island, we must provide rail transit for people along the corridor.

This is a city publication called the ‘Honolulu Rapid Transit Project’. It talks about the need for a rail line as an alternative to passenger vehicles. The proposed line extends from Kapolei to Waikiki across the southern spine of the island. This did not come out in 2012. It came out in 1972, or forty years ago during Frank Fasi’s first term as mayor. Mayor Neal Blaisdell first raised the idea for rail in 1968.

Today’s rapid transit project is nothing less than the combined planning efforts, since 1968, of hundreds of city employees, city councils, mayors, state legislators, members of Congress, the Federal Transit Administration, and community, labor and business partners. Rail has been part of a larger plan that has been guiding our island’s development for decades.

Unfortunately, in recent months, this has become a polarizing issue for many. Concerns, fear and even anger have become just as much a headline as the unprecedented progress that has been made. I know and understand your concerns.

You have been concerned about:

  • Ansaldo/Breda’s performance;
  • Escalating costs due to change orders and lawsuits;
  • Whether alternatives were considered;
  • Not getting federal money;
  • The project bankrupting the city and county of Honolulu;
  • Property taxes skyrocketing;
  • Spending this money on something else; and
  • Whether it will be unattractive and obstruct views.

I recognize many residents question the city’s ability to answer questions transparently, to address issues that have been raised, and to deliver the project on time and under budget. Given its price tag, you have a right to scrutinize it and to feel concerned. I feel those concerns, too.

When I took office I committed to bring to government several intrinsic core values: honesty, transparency and fiscal responsibility. I also committed to seeing the rail project through as the voters intended, on time and within budget. I have not deviated from those commitments, nor do I intend to forsake them.

We will build this system the right way. It starts with leadership and expecting the HART board to provide the necessary oversight to satisfy the public. It means setting clear rules regarding change orders, delays, shoddy workmanship and oversight. In addition, it means better transparency with you.

Frankly, there’s a lot of information out there regarding rail, but you might never know of it because we in the city are not doing a good job helping you discern what is accurate. You deserve the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

The truth is our contracts so far have come in three hundred million dollars under budget. The total revenue from 5 years of a GET surcharge is higher than expected. This happened during the last 3 quarters when we were concerned about an economic downturn. even during the economic downturn. There is a contingency fund of over eight hundred million dollars built into the five point three billion dollar price tag, to cover the potential for additional expenses, just in case. Our goal, obviously, is to avoid costly delays caused by lawsuits or other obstructions.

In the last sixteen months, there’s been remarkable progress. The environmental impact statement was approved. A groundbreaking ceremony was held. The project entered ‘Final Design’. The Federal Transit Administration issued a Letter of No Prejudice that allows us to begin advanced construction. Just last week, President Obama included two hundred and fifty million dollars in his fiscal year 2013 budget for our Honolulu rail project. Reaching these milestones reflects the federal government’s confidence in our system. The Federal Transit Administration financial capacity process is incredibly rigorous.

Honolulu has successfully progressed to this point.

In the coming months, hundreds of additional local workers will be hired to work directly on the project with more gaining employment in indirect jobs that result from this investment in our future.

To the naysayers and critics, I ask, ‘What do you have to offer these workers in the next seven years if we have to start all over again?’ And, ‘What do you have to offer the commuters from the West side, who in seven years would have a completed project?’

Last week, I had the chance to ride a successful elevated rail transit system in one of Honolulu’s prominent sister cities and Asia-Pacific neighbors: Manila. This vibrant and energetic waterfront metropolis suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion and vehicle pollution in the entire world, but residents have a clean, reliable and safe alternative, and they use it by the thousands. While swarms of cars and buses jockey for position on choked thoroughfares, the most recent portion of the rail system whisks passengers along overhead and completely avoids the turmoil. It’s a system that works. For passengers who rely on the system every day, Manila without rail transit would be unthinkable.

I am as committed to seeing our project move forward as I am about holding to the core values of honesty, transparency and fiscal accountability that you expect. I have not changed. My values have not changed. And my enthusiasm to do rail transit the right way has not changed.

This is more than 1 project. It’s about reducing pollution and our dependence on foreign oil. It’s about providing good jobs, transforming the urban center, protecting our rural communities and our agricultural land, and preserving the character of our island for future generations. Taken further, it will be a catalyst to a 21st century city of a million people. This is the only viable option for building this 21st century city and providing a sustainable future for all of O‘ahu that has made it through decades of vetting and is poised to employ people now. Anything else is back to square one. We need to keep moving forward.


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