A coalition of community groups led by former Gov. Ben Cayetano has scheduled a news conference today (12:30 p.m. On the city hall steps) to try to convince people that the fight to stop the $5.5 billion O‘ahu rail project isn’t over.
It’ll be interesting to see if it’s just the same old talk or if they have something new up their sleeves, such as a credible legal challenge to the rail environmental impact statement or a plan to shift some City Council votes.
If they’re not ready to move beyond the talk, rail is getting awfully close to being a done deal, with federal and state approval of the EIS, an apparent resolution on how to deal with burial sites found along the route, the city moving forward on creating a transit authority and the feds granting approval to begin transit-related construction such as moving utilities.
There are legitimate concerns about whether federal funds will come through with Republicans gaining power in Congress and whether the city’s half-cent excise tax for transit will raise enough to pay for the project, but the city has deflected questions about finances and gotten away with it because opponents have failed to mount political pressure to force answers.
A pro-rail referendum was passed by voters in 2008, a charter amendment to create the transit authority won easy approval in 2010, the anti-rail candidate finished a distant third in the last two mayoral elections and opponents have failed to make rail a pivotal issue in any council race.
Hardly a political mandate for Mayor Peter Carlisle and the council to change course.
The Cayetano group, which includes architects, Hawaii’s 1000 Friends, the League of Women Voters, Life of the Land and the Outdoor Circle, is focused on an old issue — the visual blight of the all-elevated commuter train — that has already been widely discussed without shifting public opinion. From their statement:
We believe the City’s proposed elevated heavy rail project will destroy mauka-makai view planes, create a physical barrier between the city and our famed waterfront and disturb Native Hawaiian burial grounds along its right-of-way.
Also, we believe that the proposed system will be an intrusion on the landscape, will forever alter the character of the communities through which it is built and will negatively impact the lives of people who live and work in Honolulu’s urban core.
“The City seems to have convinced the media that rail transit has permission to start construction, that ‘it’s over,’ ” the opponents said in their statement. “It’s far from over.”
That likely depends on whether they can either change the politics or bring a court challenge that convinces a judge that ugly is illegal.