Rail Now Under Way In Kapolei

More than 100 rail supporters lined the sidewalks outside Waipahu Intermediate School last Tuesday, waving signs and chanting “go rail go” at passing cars.

Inside, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation geared up for a public informational meeting, which was intended to give the community an opportunity to ask questions and learn about the project’s developments.

The meeting was one in a series of five hosted last week and the week before, and comes after HART’s move to start construction late last month.

Foundation and column construction began April 23 in East Kapolei near Ewa, soon after HART got approval to proceed with the project from the Federal Transportation Administration.

The crowd outside consisted of two groups – the Hawaii Masons Union, which accounted for most of the gathering, and a newly formed group called Filipinos For Rail.

“We are hoping that people will be sensitized to the importance of having the rail system,” said Filipinos For Rail member Jack M.

Legal, a Kapolei resident. The importance, he said, is that rail will provide people with another option in their daily commutes, helping to eliminate traffic.

“It’s not going to solve everything, but all of these things taken together – TheBus, rail, biking – will certainly help lessen the traffic that we are experiencing right now … The (population) is just growing, people are moving and houses are being built.”

Another major reason Legal says he supports rail is the fact that it could stimulate job creation for area residents – which also is the main reason that brought the Hawaii Masons Union out in droves to the meeting.

“We have so many guys, in the hundreds, that are unemployed, and the rail will provide work for the masons out there in the field,” said Peter Iriarte, field manager of the masons union, which is comprised of cement masons, plasters, tile setters and more.

Iriarte noted that in addition to providing construction jobs to union members, building rail also could create permanent positions for other industries, as well as provide the option for future renovation projects.

New HART executive director and chief executive officer Daniel Grabauskas, who was appointed in March, asserted during the meeting that he is committed to finishing rail “on budget and on time.”

According to HART, starting construction now is a necessary means to reach that goal. HART said that beginning now will save money, even if the project is later scrapped, but the move has raised some skepticism from the community, primarily regarding funding issues.

While $858 million has been raised through the general excise tax, HART has not yet received federal funding. A portion of federal funds have been earmarked for the project, but official funding is still in the works.

HART public information specialist Scott Ishikawa explained that HART is in the process of finalizing a full-funding grant agreement with FTA for $1.55 billion.

“I am very, very comfortable that we will receive (funding),” Grabauskas said in response to a question from the audience. He added that he has met with the politicians working with the issue on the federal level. “They have every confidence that we are going to … have that $1.55 billion come here to be invested.”

According to Grabauskas, if the federal funding comes through, rail will be completely paid off by 2022 – two years after it becomes fully operational.

But the visible and vocal supporters on the streets at the Waipahu meeting are not necessarily indicative of any major sea change when it comes to public opinion on the issue. During the meeting, a few attendees expressed concerns about the project.

“I don’t believe that there is going to be a lot of rider-ship,” stated Pearl City resident Davin Takahashi at the meeting. When Grabauskas responded that HART has projected that there will be 115,000 passengers per weekday by 2030, Takahashi countered that there is not enough space downtown to accommodate that many jobs.

“Where in Honolulu would you create 115,000 jobs? … The economic growth is in Kapolei.”

Attendees also raised concerns about other issues, including the energy efficiency of the technology and what could happen if the federal funding does not come through.

City Councilman Tom Berg has been pushing for voters to get another chance to vote on rail. He had introduced Resolution 12-59, which would put rail on the November ballot to give voters a second chance to evaluate the project. But the resolution was voted down at a City Council hearing last Wednesday.

In addition to the Kapolei construction, other areas along the proposed route also are being worked on: soil testing along the Pearl City to Aloha Stadium area and archeological survey work in Kalihi and downtown.

In addition, the Waipahu area is being prepared for column construction, which is scheduled to begin this summer. In a couple of months, construction for a storage and maintenance facility at LCC is slated to begin. Currently, approval has only been granted from construction from Kapolei to Aloha Stadium. Construction for the Kalihi/downtown area is not projected to begin until 2016.

HART plans to submit its application for federal funding in June and can expect a decision by the end of the year.