Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Columnist’s Unrelenting Rants Against Rail Project Give Supporters Opening for a Rational Contrast

As if to underscore our prediction that he’d never write one single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012, Dave Shapiro steps up today with yet another anti-rail piece: City’s rush to build rail unrealistic, unnecessary (subscription required).

As a columnist, Mr. Shapiro is one of the few journalists at the Star-Advertiser whose job is to tell readers his opinions on current events. Rail’s one of those big, slow-moving targets columnists love to hate, even if they don’t particularly understand rail. There’s plenty evidence they don’t in columns written by Mr. Shapiro, Cynthia Oi and Richard Borreca.

But that’s OK, and we’re turning a new leaf here at Yes2Rail about Mr. Shapiro’s well-documented anti-politician, anti-government-spending convictions. We’re now embracing his consistent opposition as an opportunity to build on.

Wait or Act?
His column today tries to make the case that the city should have waited for final approval of the anticipated $1.55 billion in federal funding before moving to begin construction. That would have been the better course, he says, than setting an aggressive construction schedule.

When that schedule couldn’t be met due to various delays, the city paid a $15 million delay claim to Kiewit, which had geared up to start building the project. In other words, in suggesting the Full Final Funding Agreement was needed first, Mr. Shapiro believes all work should have stopped until late this year, since final approval of big federal spending on the project isn’t anticipated until around the fourth quarter.

But what about the delays? There’s no perspective in Mr. Shapiro’s column – nothing about former Governor Lingle’s refusal to accept the Final Environmental Impact Statement during her final months in office. She blocked the project’s advance for nearly half a year following the Federal Transit Administration's sign-off on the FEIS. Governor Abercrombie accepted the document on the 10th day of his new administration.

Then There’s the Lawsuit
Mr. Shapiro has said good things in his column about the lawsuit to kill the project filed by anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater, mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano and others nearly a year ago. That’s created another delay, of course. Oral arguments in that case won’t even happen until this August.

Commuters stuck in traffic morning and night in the east-west corridor undoubtedly have their own opinions about these delays and about those who’ve caused them. Faced with either sitting back to let all the contingencies play out or take action to start the project as early as possible, the city chose the latter.

Construction costs increase $10 million for each month of delay, according to the city, but the columnist sweeps those considerations away in yet another swipe at politicians.

Being paid to express your opinions in daily newspaper journalism is a privilege reserved to editorial writers, columnists and cartoonists. The Star-Advertiser’s three opinion columnists will continue to knock rail all year. That’s our prediction, and here’s another one:

The newspaper’s editorial position to support Honolulu rail will not waiver, thanks to the editorial page staff's broader appreciation of rail’s goals and what the project will deliver to the public for all the decades in the 21st century. It's a bigger vision than the columnists can muster.

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