After 40 years of dispute, rural Hawaii is closer to having a transit system.
Construction on a $5.3 billion 20 mile railroad line will begin this spring. The line will rise 40 feet in the sky and spread over farmlands from western Oahu over to commercial districts of downtown Honolulu and Waikiki.
The New York Times reports that for 40 years, community leaders and environmentalists have opposed the rail line saying it would be too expensive, destroy the coastline view and damage farmland. Planners want to make it more convenient for tourists and encourage development in Hawaiian cities that rank highly amongst other industrialized cities but lack a similar transit system.
“It starts to remind everyone that we are not all grass huts anymore,” said an opposition leader Cliff Slater regarding the developing state according to The Times. “There’s this illusion as to what Hawaii is all about, and New York-style trains don’t cut it.”
Many support the construction because highways in Honolulu get as crowded as those in Los Angeles.
“This is not a sleepy, lazy, little city anymore,” said Toru Hamayasu, the interim director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit according to The Contra Costa Times. “It’s a big town now.”
The Contra Costa Times reports that former governor Ben Cayetano, is an opponent of the plan saying it is more of a political choice that is not based on “sound engineering.”
Opposition to development is common in Hawaii, but opponents are not in the majority. Overwhelmingly unions, government officials and leader support the railway.
“It’s our genuine belief that there is sufficient momentum for this to carry itself forward on its own, absent some adverse ruling by the court,” said mayor of Honolulu Peter Carlisle. “There isn’t any doubt that this is something a majority of people in Oahu want. The number of people who are opposed to it are slowly withering away as people realize that first, we have to do something to get people employed, and second, traffic is unbearable.”
The $5.3 billion Honolulu project is scheduled to end by 2018 but may come to a halt depending on a lawsuit filed in federal court from opponents who say planners did not look into alternatives to the project in environmental studies. Former Governor Cayetano is a plaintiff in the suit.