( April 30, 2012 - Opinion Editorial by Connie Lau & Richard Dahl in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser )
Regardless of where people stand on Honolulu’s Rail Transit project, it is clear that the community benefits from more transparency and more discussion about how taxpayer money is being spent on a project that will have a significant impact on the future of Oahu and our state.
As businesspeople, we couldn’t agree more. As parents who want the best possible Oahu for our families, we expect no less.
This is the primary reason more than 30 business and community leaders came together to form Move Oahu Forward. We are committed to participating in the public conversation about rail and providing our perspective on one of the most important transportation projects in the history of Hawaii.
Our view is that rail transit is a critical part of a comprehensive solution to Honolulu’s traffic congestion. Move Oahu Forward organizations employ thousands of people across our state. We experience first-hand how traffic congestion erodes our quality of life. Our employees waste thousands of hours sitting in traffic—time that could be spent with family or just enjoying the communities where they live—time that many of us take for granted.
As businesspeople, we believe rail transit is an investment in our future. It will spur the growth of our local economy, create immediate and long-term jobs, attract investment, and revitalize Honolulu’s urban core.
Examining the rail transit financial plan was one of our first tasks. It’s something we will continue to do as the project moves forward. The global and local economies will offer both opportunities and challenges, and project planners must be nimble in responding to any and all of these scenarios.
After our initial review of the financial plan, we determined that Honolulu has a viable project that we can afford. Here are some of the key factors we considered:
- The project is ahead of its revenue projections, having already collected more than $800 million in General Excise and Use Tax (GET) revenue.
- The updated cost of the project is lower than originally projected because contracts came in more than $300 million lower than projected and due to value engineering.
- These factors, along with a contingency fund of more than $800 million, have kept the overall project well within budget, despite some of the additional costs incurred due to project delays. In fact, any additional costs due to delays are already accounted for as part of the contingency fund portion of the overall budget.
Raising so much of the required funding for a public works project ahead of time is unprecedented and a strong indicator that the funding mechanism for rail transit is sound. Our findings track with the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) review, which has deemed rail transit’s financial plan reasonable and realistic.
With the firm commitment of the FTA and the strong support of our congressional delegation, there is no better time for rail transit. Conversely, if we do not move forward now, we will probably never have this opportunity again.
As residents raising children and, for Richard, grandchildren, too, we have a personal stake in the well-being of Oahu and a responsibility to help find solutions that will improve quality of life and keep our island as a place our children and grandchildren will want to live.
Rail transit has the potential to reshape Honolulu and be a key component of a sustainable, long-term vision for our city.
It is time to move toward a future with less traffic, more sensible, sustainable development, and a better quality of life. Rail transit is the best investment we can make today to ensure that future.