Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sure-Fire Path to Paralysis: Foment Fear of Failure

We didn’t have to wait long for the anti-rail segment of our island society to chime in on the Federal Transit Administration’s issuance of a Record of Decision to the Honolulu rail project.

Their mantra is what they’ve used for at least 20 years; we call it the What-If Factor. What if the federal money never comes? What if there are cost overruns? What if there are delays? What if there’s a tsunami? Believe it or not, fear-of-tsunami has been mentioned as a reason not to build Honolulu rail.

A morning radio talk show host and his favorite anti-rail guest were perfecting their What-Ifs this morning, going so far as to predict massive cost overruns and no federal money in the end.

It’s all boogey-man talk – conjured-up images of future failures based on nothing more than their active imaginations. Their end game, of course, is to scare citizens away from rail.

Devil in the Details

The talk show host asked his favorite guest this morning if any form of rail is acceptable on Oahu. The guest wavered slightly, since he doesn’t want to alienate a faction of local architects who favor building at grade in town and elevated further west.

But in the end, when pressed by the anti-rail host, the guest firmly endorsed building an elevated toll road instead of rail. He said drivers could pay a toll for the new highway in the sky, thereby producing reduced congestion on the H-1 freeway.

That was his alternative – diverting vehicle traffic from the H-1 freeway to the toll road. Drivers who can afford to pay tolls would do so, and those who can’t afford the tolls would be left to their on devices on traffic-choked streets and highways.

And what happens if the toll road becomes congested with too many toll-paying cars? That’s simple enough; just keep raising the real-time toll until only those who can afford to pay them would access the highway.

Just Charge More

You see where this is going, don’t you? The favored guest’s alternative to rail amounts to a failure to achieve the rail project’s four goals that we highlighted earlier this month, with "restoring mobility" the primary goal.

What also jumps out especially is a toll road’s inability to provide transportation equity for all classes of people, something rail will do with ease. Only those with cars can use toll roads, and only those who can afford to pay ever-increasing tolls can enjoy clear sailing.

Another anti-railer made all this perfectly clear in October when he wrote: “Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading.” So fervent is he in his defense of car-centric commuting that he probably doesn't perceive the injustice in his shockingly frank statement.

To paraphrase: “More fear of failure is necessary to encourage doubt about rail.”

Be ready for much more What-If fear mongering in the weeks, months and years ahead.

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