Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Anti-Rail Columnist Pushes It to Anti-Taste, too; Is Building Rail Really Akin to USA in Afghanistan?

We took a shot yesterday at anti-rail Richard Borreca’s Star-Advertiser column (subscription) for (1) being inaccurate and (2) just another in a string of opinion pieces that knock Honolulu rail.

Our January prediction about the paper’s three regular columnists still stands: They won’t write a single paragraph of positive content about the project in 2012. Flailing away at rail as they do and describing it as if it were the worse thing ever proposed by the city reflects a knee-jerk reaction to big government projects that leaves no room for study and understanding of what rail will accomplish.

But Civil Beat’s Michael Levine (the online news site's rail reporter) focused on something else in Mr. Borreca’s column – the comparison of the rail project to America’s experience in Afghanistan.

“Honolulu’s battle for rail is becoming the Afghanistan moment for local Democrats,” Mr. Borreca’s column began. “The once politically popular incursion into Afghanistan is now a questionable invasion. The decade-long American war is seen as a bad decision.”
Mr. Borreca wrote that rail’s declining poll numbers are ‘like our quagmire overseas.’ And that’s where Mr. Levine takes exception to the comparison, and rightly so.

Maybe they’ve both taken too long and maybe they’ve both too costly,” Mr. Levine wrote. “But there’s at least one significant difference that Borreca and the newspaper’s editors seem to have overlooked. Rail does not kill people.” The emphasis was in the original.
The comparison was “offensive” and unnecessary to make the political thrust of the column work, he said. “Even if you oppose Honolulu’s project, likening it to war seems like a stretch.”

Goals Matter
It was a stretch with insight into the mindset of a journalist who never passes up an opportunity to attack a project that will improve Oahu residents’ mobility, reduce travel times through the urban core, provide a rational pattern for housing and commercial development around rail stations for decades to come and ensure transportation equity for all income levels of our population.

It's doubtful the columnists would recognize those outcomes as rail’s four primary goals.

We do take issue with Mr. Levine’s characterization of rail as “too costly.” It’s certainly expensive – the costliest ever in Hawaii – but a project this ambitious with such important outcomes for future generations can’t be done on the cheap. Simply adding more bus routes as some propose as an alternative to rail would be doing it on the cheap – and ineffectively, too.

Mr. Borreca ended his column: “It remains to be seen whether rail leaves Kapolei before the U.S. is out of Kabul.”

The three columnists’ anti-rail convictions don’t remain to be seen. They’re visible each time they turn to this subject – a classic case of near-sightedness that relishes and can’t see beyond the controversy in front of them today.

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