Like A Bad Toothache, Rail Woes Throb
Revisiting rail is like remembering a toothache that has never gone away. It’s Honolulu’s big hurt of the first decade of the 21st century. It aches and aches and aches, and no one appears with either a syringe full of Novocain — or take away the pain.
It started well. In 2004, Mufi Hannemann assumed t h e mantl e worn b y a half-dozen mayors before him as the chief proponent of Honolulu’s rail transit project. He worked his magic on state legislators, persuading them to raise the state excise a half-percent to fund the 20mile elevated track.
A mere half-percent. Who could argue with that? The folks at home would hardly feel it, and smiling, sunburned t ourists would be paying 25-33 percent with their purchases of suntan oil, mac nuts, loud aloha shirts and Kona coffee. Little pain, lots of gain, and visitors from far and wide picking up part of the tab.
And the time was right (ripe might be a better word). The economy stagnated, and the onset of the Great Reces unemployment rates higher. Construction workers were particularly hard hit.
In 2010, Mayor Mufi decided to move on — across Punchbowl Street t o t he fifth floor of the Capitol. Unfortunately for him, a congressman sitting in faroff Washington also wanted the governorship. Neil Abercrombie got it.
mer city managing director and a true believer in a full 20 miles of rail, won the top job at Honolulu Hale.
But even true believers would suffer with rail. A half- percent shared with tourists might lessen the burden, but oh, how that burden grew — and grew, and grew. From $5 billion to $6 billion-something to $8 billion to, did I hear $10 billion? Maybe more?
Those numbers turned the well-coiffed, Sig Zane-shirted, whip-smart Kirk Caldwell into a beggar, crossing and re-crossing Punchbowl, taking punches on both sides of the street as he asked for more money.
He got “you again?” stares from the lady chairs of the money committees. Some accused him of … well, lying to them. He persevered (whined a bit, to be sure) but took his lumps, and went back.
Rail opponents persevered as well. The grand poohbah of t r ansportation l ore at Panos Prevedouros, spoke and wrote wherever asked in opposition, arguing that Honolulu’s traffic woes could be solved by, among other things, better timing of traf
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, an opponent of rail from his state senate days, challenged Caldwell’s reelection in 2016, lost, then took out an advertisement in The Washington Post urging the feds not to send the $1.5 billion promised to help Honolulu’s rail. Now that’s opposition!
So t h e b e g g a r - mayor crossed Punchbowl again this past session, was pummeled, and hurried back to Honolulu Hale. And the legislators pummeled each other, reorganized, and shouted, “Ex- tend the half-percent!” Or, “Raise the hotel-room tax 1 percent!”
Then the legislators went home. Gov. Ige said, “Let ’em all cool off.” They did, and Ige called them back for began with a plan. “Give the lyin’ beggar-mayor his $2.37 billion, a lotta excise tax, a lotta hotel room tax.” There was jubilation. Handshakes. Even wine.
But the mayor showed up, saying, “It’s not enough. I need $600 million more.”
“What?!!!” said a legislator. Voices were raised along with the glasses. A drunk, according to the mayor, was heard. The mayor walked out.
And the great Honolulu toothache continues to throb.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell