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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Favorable poll results surprise rail backers

 •  Rail ads reaching much of the public
 •  Most in Honolulu say they won't use rail regularly, poll shows
 •  76% of Oahu voters want rail on ballot

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The strength of support for the city's rail project, as measured by the Hawai'i Poll, was a welcome surprise for project proponents and a warning sign to those hoping to kill the effort via a November referendum.

The Hawai'i Poll found 76 percent of O'ahu voters want rail on the November ballot. The poll also found that residents were likely to vote in favor of rail transit by a nearly two-to-one margin.

Yesterday, several of the key players on both sides of the rail debate reacted to the poll results.

"I never expected it to be that overwhelmingly in favor of rail transit," said City Council member Gary Okino, a supporter of rail. "I assumed it was neck and neck."

The poll showed 61 percent of respondents would vote in favor of rail. About 33 percent said they would vote against.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was pleasantly surprised," said council member Nestor Garcia, also a proponent of rail. "It serves to underscore what I felt all along."

Rail opponent Cliff Slater said the Hawai'i Poll shows the public is misinformed about the merits of the $3.7 billion project.


According to the poll, 65 percent of those supporting the project said rail is needed because there's too much traffic or a need for traffic relief. The project, which would link East Kapolei to Ala Moana, will help take more autos off the road, but will not prevent traffic from worsening in the future.

"If 65 percent of the people who favor believe it's going to reduce traffic congestion, that's an educational problem," Slater said. "They're not talking from a factual basis. They're not going to get any traffic relief. The city has totally misled them."

Council member Charles Djou, who opposes the rail project, said he can't agree with the majority in the poll.

"I don't make my decisions based on a poll, but what I think is right," he said. "I respectfully disagree."

Djou said voters need to understand the cost of the project, which, when adjusted for inflation, he said increases to $5 billion and another nearly $1 billion for operating the system over about 10 years.

"If the voters, when they go to the polls knowing all the financial consequences of the rail system, still say they want it, then give it to the people," Djou said. "This is a democracy, not a dictatorship."


Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the project's most prominent proponent, said he was pleased with the results of the poll.

"It sort of validates what I've always felt, that there is a definite silent majority out there that is tired of being stuck in traffic, they're tired of more studies and they want action," said Hannemann.

"I'm very encouraged, and I'm not surprised that that's how people feel, because we have been out in the community in numerous talk-story sessions and listening to their concerns," he said.

The poll could provide a further push to get the rail question on the ballot. A move to do that has gained momentum in recent weeks with both Hannemann and the City Council saying that such a vote may be appropriate.

"It's gotten to the point where we need to go through a public vote, and that's why I think the council is poised to put the question on the general election ballot," council member Todd Apo said. "I am very sure we will get to the point of getting a good question on the ballot."

The poll results may add to the confidence of those that have taken a strong position in favor of what would be the costliest public works project in the state's history.

Council member Donovan Dela Cruz said the poll results show that the city should not be reluctant about providing the public with information about the project's costs, aesthetics and other details.

"The government has to respect the fact that we have a very, very intelligent community," he said. "We shouldn't be hiding anything from the public.

"The more information we get out there, the better."

Strong public support for rail exists partly because that's the only option now actively considered by the city, said council member Ann Kobayashi. Kobayashi, who supports mass transit, but not trains, said the public should be given a choice on whether the city should be considering a mass transit solution that uses rubber-tired buses instead of steel-wheeled trains.

"If you support the fixed-guideway system, it has to be steel-on-steel because the mayor has deemed it so," said Kobayashi, who's running for mayor against Hannemann. "There's not a choice. You either go with that or you've got nothing. The alternative is not presented to people."

Advertiser staff writer Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this report.

Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com.