Sunday, September 5, 2010

Labor Day: Anticipating Rail Project’s Advance; Neighbor Island Daily Urges Acceptance of FEIS

It’s the traditional time on the calendar to reflect on what’s gone by during the year and what’s ahead in the final third. Quite a lot has happened for the rail project in 2010 even though the long-anticipated groundbreaking has been delayed. Let’s do a broad-brush review.

Chief among 2010 developments was the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and its formal transmission to the Governor for her review.

As virtually everybody with an interest in Honolulu rail knows by now, Governor Lingle has continued to voice concerns about Oahu’s ability to support rail in the near and long term. (She also has consistently enthused over an at-grade system, and we’ve attempted over the months to focus her attention on the major drawbacks of this allegedly cheaper alternative.)

The Governor finally hired a firm just last week to perform a financial analysis of the project. The City says that’s not even a requirement under the law and notes that it performs no such analysis on the FEIS for projects brought to the City and County for approval.

Environmental Impact is the operable phrase, but that’s not how it has played out in the Governor’s office. We have reason to be skeptical of the analysis in advance, since rail has become so politicized, and hope it doesn’t turn out to resemble those selective public opinion polls whose questions influence the outcome.

The Good News

All this is playing out in the final 100 days of the Lingle Administration, and that’s the good news. It’s likely the new governor will have the final say on the FEIS, with the odds favoring acceptance in short order to move the economy along with new jobs and advance the promise of providing an alternative to highway commuting within this decade.

The Maui News, which has been a strong supporter of the Governor throughout her political career, said in an editorial last week that it is “dumfounded by her decision to delay state approval of the rail system, on Oahu, possibly jeopardizing federal funds that have been promised for the project.”

That’s the other top 2010 development – the strong endorsement by the Department of Transportation of Honolulu’s plan with the expectation of $1.55 billion in federal funding that the Maui News fears is jeopardized by the Governor's delay. “Now or never” is more than a cliché about the project; it describes the urgency to secure funding while conditions are favorable in Washington to do so and lock in the project’s financial support.

The year’s final trimester will challenge the rail project to stay focused on its goals – restoring transportation mobility and equity to its citizens and providing a rationale way to channel future growth to encourage transit use and lessen citizens’ dependence on the private automobile for that mobility.

It’s not too soon to start the holiday wish list, so let’s begin it with acceptance of the FEIS followed in short order by groundbreaking. For now, enjoy Labor Day!

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