Friday, February 21, 2020

Well-Researched Bloomberg Article on Honolulu Rail Project’s Financing Nevertheless Gets Something Wrong – Something That Needs Correcting

View of Hō‘ae‘ae Station that will serve West Loch, Ewa Beach, and Waipahu
illustrates how commuters will ride above street traffic. -- HART Photo
As a former reporter (and current media trainer), I tell clients it’s difficult for reporters to get every fact straight in their stories. That’s why (free tip) newsmakers have an obligation to help reporters get the facts right. 

A recent Bloomberg news agency story on the Honolulu rail project is a case in point. The story reported on Honolulu’s sale of general obligation bonds to help finance construction of the rail project. 

Reporter Joe Mysak noted: “There are two things you can say about building a rail transit project: They sure are expensive, and they sure are worth it.”

Oahu residents are learning about the former and are looking forward to the “worth it” part. Yes2Rail’s never-ending theme is that grade-separated transit – elevated in Honolulu’s case – is worth it because it’s the only way to completely avoid being stuck in traffic on the daily commute. The photograph above illustrates the concept; rail commuters will glide on rail tracks 30 or more feet above cars in the grind.

Mr. Mysak, who clearly understands the benefits of grade-separated transit, ends his article: “With the train financing, Honolulu is betting on its own future, one with fewer cars and buses. That’s a pretty good bet.”

And that’s where he goes slightly off the rails. Honolulu’s project never promised to “solve” traffic or reduce the number of cars and buses on the roads. The project’s #1 goal is to improve mobility for Oahu residents by providing an alternative to cars and buses – an alternative that will be completely unaffected by traffic.

It’s important to make that correction. Rail opponents tried for years to convince Oahu residents that if traffic will be worse after rail is built than it is now, the project would be for naught, and that’s just not true. The leader of the opposition finally had to admit the obvious – that traffic would be worse in the future if rail weren’t built.

So to paraphrase Mr. Mysak’s “pretty good bet,” Honolulu’s future will include a way for residents and commuters to move through Oahu’s southern corridor traffic-free. 

That’s a goal worth pursuing nearly everywhere, especially on an island with no room to expand the highway network.

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