Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Review: Rail Construction To Begin in 2 Days; Biz Group Formed to Endorse Project, Plus: More Reasons To Doubt Voters-Only Opinion Poll

                                  Somewhere, Frank Fasi is throwing around his shaka sign.
The biggest news of the week has been so long in coming it has history written all over it: Construction on a Honolulu grade-separated rail project will begin in 2 days on April 23.

Yesterday’s announcement by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) said all necessary state and federal requirements have been met, and drilling for the concrete foundation shafts and support columns will begin near Farrington Highway in East Kapolei.

“This significant milestone for the rail project moves us closer to providing Oahu residents with an alternative to sitting in horrific traffic congestion,” said HART executive director and CEO Dan Grabauskas. “We want to thank the Federal Transit Administration and state agencies that have worked so closely with us on all of the necessary approvals. This is indeed a great day for Oahu.”

Somewhere (and there may be an argument on exactly where that is), former Mayor Frank F. Fasi is growling, “It’s about time!” The longest-serving mayor in Honolulu history was rail’s biggest champion during his six terms in City Hall’s corner office.

Frank probably is throwing his shaka trademark around, too, as was his habit at nearly every occasion, including election victories (at right). He brought his final effort to build rail close to fruition before a last-minute City Council decision killed it by one vote 20 years ago. Council drama is ramping up as Council members deal with construction budgets and bonding issues in the weeks ahead.

Others with responsibility for building rail have no doubts about the importance of building rail. HART Chairwoman Carrie Okinaga commented on the construction news yesterday: “Keeping the project on schedule is critical to keeping our costs within budget so we welcome this news. The HART Board of Directors remains strongly committed to ensuring the project stays on track and is completed on time and within budget.”

Moving Rail Forward

Leaders of 30 businesses and organizations have formed a new group that will raise funds and voices in support of Honolulu rail as the debate on the project intensifies. Richard Dahl, president and CEO of the James Campbell Co., will co-chair the Move Oahu Forward group with Constance Lau, who holds the same positions at Hawaiian Electric Industries.

Despite a mayoral race that pits one anti-rail and two pro-rail candidates against one another, MOF won’t be a political advocacy organization. MOF already has hosted one event for 150 businesses and community leaders.

“This is a critical time for the rail transit project,” Mr. Dahl told the HonoluluStar-Advertiser (subscription). “We lost the opportunity before, and we cannot afford to lose it again…. We have confidence in the (FTA’s) review process and believe Honolulu has a very viable project with a sound financial plan.” Added Ms. Lau:

“We have a rare opportunity to improve our transportation system on Oahu and secure a better quality of life for many in our community. The Honolulu rail transit project is an investment in our future…. Rail transit is about a long-term vision for Hawaii. It is for our children and grandchildren.”

Oahu’s Non-Voters

We also devoted considerable space this week questioning the validity of a public opinion survey on rail conducted by Civil Beat that excluded non-voters from the survey’s population sample. Our Thursday post cited scholarly studies that reported significant variances in attitudes among voters vs. non-voters on numerous issues.

Civil Beat asked only voters what they think about Honolulu rail and allegedly found slippage from previous levels of majority support for the project. By not even inquiring among non-voters, the half of the population more likely to be dependent on public transit, Civil Beat’s survey results were highly likely to be inaccurate on the rail issue.

All three candidates will be working hard to turn out the vote for the August primary election. Somewhere, Frank Fasi will be watching and hoping for another at least one more chance to crank up that shaka sign of his

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