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Thursday, June 30, 2016

A SIMPLE SOLUTION FOR THE HONOLULU RAIL TRANSIT PROJECT

I'm not a transportation expert, but became a professor of engineering while in the Civil Engineering (CE) Department at the University of Hawaii, which is supposed to be responsible for thinking long-term about mass transit.  JoAnn Yukimura was mayor of Kauai from 1988 and I met with her regarding how I could help her island.  Fifteen years prior, she was a high school classmate friend of the person who mowed my lawn in 1963 when I worked for Kilauea Sugar Company.  I noted that she went on to Stanford University, from where I had then recently graduated.  So as director of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute I visited with her to see how she could get involved with renewable energy.  This detour was unexpected.

Mayor Yukimura mentioned that one of her biggest problems--mind you, this was probably in 1989 and we talking about a small island--was the traffic between Lihue and Kapaa.  I had just visited EPCOT Center and was enthralled by their World Showcase, which featured a dozen countries around a lake.

So my solution was to entice international consortia to individually build the train stations by providing to them attractive development rights, then find a mass transit organization to experiment with their latest system so that the cost to Kauai would be negligible.  At that time I knew someone from Japan Airlines, which had connections with the Maglev experiment ongoing at the foot of Mount Fuji, where I had coincidentally also seen.   When you're at a university you can come up with the craziest ideas.

The UH hired a transportation expert in 1990, Panos Prevedouros.  I talked  him into helping me write a report for the County of Kauai to finance and build this system.  Since then, Panos, who at last check was chairman of the CE Department, became a more famous opponent of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project.  How things change.  Maybe I should arrange to meet with him in light of this posting.  That would be something if he ends up saving mass transit in Honolulu.

So anyway, JoAnn loses in 1994 her mayoral seat, effectively killing that effort.  At around that time I had gotten involved with a very expensive mass transit plan to build a system around Osaka Bay.  I re-introduced my international concept, they loved it.  Our team of Takeo Kondo of Nihon University, Joe Vadus, who was at time chief technologist for NOAA, and I had big plans.  We were going to form a company named GOI, which had some symbolic meaning I can't today remember.  Unfortunately in 1995 came the Great Hanshin Earthquake decimating Kansai, Japan's worst since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.  Needless to say, the project was terminated.

The beauty of the World Showcase idea was:
  • International companies and their partners would finance, build and operate the station, which would all become small cities with cuisine and entertainment of that region.
  • The city that succeeds with this plan would immediately become the world headquarters for a range of opportunities.
  • China would bring two pandas, etc.
  • The transport line would be busy during evenings and weekends because the stations would be where the best restaurants, theaters and the like would be featured.
In 1992 Honolulu, thanks to Council-lady Rene Mansho, voted no on the transit tax, where matching funds of $600 million (worth a billion dollars today) were promised by the Federal government.  That would have been more than half of the budget to finish the system, which would have been fully operational a decade ago.  The grief to many is that she told no one and just impetuously became the deciding vote.  You got to give her some credit for being true to her feelings, and, who knows, maybe the project could have crashed then, but.....

So, what the heck, I passed on the World Showcase idea to the early planners of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project.  No interest.  

However, in 2010 the Huffington Post published my concept of A Sustainable Expo for 2020.  In that year no site had yet been selected for these world fairs.  I've been to just about every one since Seattle's Century 21 Exposition.  There have been twenty such extravaganzas since then, including the 2015 Milan World Expo.  Every one was uniquely momentous for me.  

So, anyway, in my proposed Honolulu world expo, a mass transit system would have been the centerpiece, where each station would have served as the international exhibits.  Read that HuffPo for the details.  Needless to say, no one in Hawaii had the guts to bring this global exposition home for 2020, as Dubai was recently selected for this honor.  Me, I was ten years into retirement then.

So this is a long-winded background to provide a simple solution for the current mess the Honolulu Rail Transit Project finds itself in, which is a project way over budget and a decision by Mayor Kirk Caldwell to build the last station at Middle Street, which insures for financial failure of the system.

Okay, it's way too late to resurrect the World Showcase concept in Honolulu, for it takes a very long time to get international private consortia to agree to terms, find financing and actually build all the needed systems, but, heck, add the University of Hawaii, Waikiki and Hawaii Kai to the station list.  In desperate times society can do wonderful things.  Anyone got a better idea?


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