Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ex-Governor Uses Familiar Anti-Rail Message on Congestion but Leaves Out ‘The Rest of the Story’

We can report with certainty that former Governor Ben Cayetano and anti-rail leader Cliff Slater are not the same person.

We know this because they both attended an event today and were visible sitting about 100 feet from one another. (To be completely forthright about it, they've appeared together on other occasions, too, including their March 29th press conference [at left] when they announced their lawsuit that's intended to block the rail project.) It's just that their denunciations of rail sound so similar that we half suspected some quick-change artistry was in play. For example:

As we’ve written here numerous times, Mr. Slater obfuscates Oahu’s future traffic congestion issues and rail’s positive effect on reducing congestion by stopping short and failing to tell the whole story. You can see him at work in a July 2010 interview posted at Civil Beat’s website. As he explained to the online news site, he begins his audience presentations on the Honolulu project as follows:

“Number one, it’s gonna cost five and one-half billion dollars before cost overruns, and the second thing is that traffic congestion with rail in the future will be worse than it is today. And then I ask them if they have any questions, and that kinda sums up the whole argument.”

Here’s how Governor Cayetano put it today in his talk at the Hawaii Venture Capital Association’s monthly luncheon:

“There will be more traffic congestion with rail than what it is today. Shouldn’t we have been told that (before the 2008 vote)?”

As one audience member said after the event broke up, “I wanted to put up my hand and say, ‘I knew that!’” It’s highly probable that most people knew that in 2008 and know it now. As Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka told the City Council last July, “No kidding, in the future, traffic congestion will be greater than it is today. I don’t think that’s any earth-shattering news.”

It’s therefore surprising to hear someone so much “his own man” as the former Governor essentially channeling Mr. Slater’s “whole argument” argument, which isn’t the whole argument at all. Mr. Yoshioka went on to tell the Council:

“I think the difference (with Mr. Slater’s interpretation) is, is that without the rail in the future, traffic congestion will be much worse than with the rail, and I think that’s the whole point of the discussion would be. It’s not appropriate to compare what the future is with rail with what it is now, but it is to compare what the future would be with or without rail. That’s the comparison that should be asked, and that’s not what Cliff Slater was just talking about.”

By not making an appropriate and logical comparison, it wasn’t what Governor Cayetano said today either.

Rail’s Primary Justification

Earlier, Governor Cayetano asserted (paraphrasing) that rail supporters’ main rationale to build rail “is that it will create jobs,” and he continued: “An alternative form of transportation should be where the focus should be.”

We agree with him that rail’s primary function will be as an alternative to driving – a fast, frequent, reliable and safe traffic-free way to travel through the urban corridor. That’s what the project’s goals say it will be; those goals say nothing about building rail to create jobs.

Opponents frequently criticize rail as nothing more than a “jobs project,” an accusation that appeals to those with a dim view of labor unions, and some supporters indeed have said the project will create thousands of construction and other jobs. It’s a true statement.

But to suggest that creating employment is the proponents’ primary justification for rail – something Governor Cayetano asserted today – is as misleading as giving only half the story about future congestion and leaving out the most critical piece of information.

Will jobs be created in building rail and afterwards? No question. Will traffic continue to grow with population growth on Oahu? Of course. Will there be less congestion on our streets and highways with rail than there would be without it?

We think most people, after just a little thought, would conclude that rail will have a positive effect on future traffic congestion when an estimated 40,000 car commuters get out of their cars to avoid the daily highway grind and adopt rail transit as their primary travel mode.

We just wish rail’s opponents could see what the late Paul Harvey made clear to most of us in his daily radio program – that “The rest of the story” is often the most important, informative and compelling part.


Jim Loomis said...

I'd like Cliff or Ben to point to one transit project anywhere in the country that has failed ... where, given the chance, the resident population would vote to give it all back and build more highways instead. Come on, guys
... just one!

Doug Carlson said...

You hit 'em where it hurts, Jim. They can't find one place that would want to give up grade-separated public transit, which beats commuting by car for a host of reasons. Imagine any city giving up rail transit and it's impossible to find one.