Transit in paradise: Charting the progress of Honolulu's passenger-rail plan

The question of how to solve Honolulu's notorious traffic problem has loomed for decades. Continued population growth and limited space has only made things worse over time. Talk of building a passenger-rail system to reduce gridlock dates back to the 1960s, but nothing materialized until 2008. That's when Honolulu voters formally approved a plan to build a 20-mile elevated rail system. In 2011, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) was formed to oversee the project.

Like other big-ticket transit projects, the now $6.4 billion plan has faced several challenges along the way, including cost increases, delays and local opposition. Originally expected to be up and running by 2020, the system is now slated to open by 2021's end. Last month, I got in touch with HART's Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Dan Grabauskas to learn how the agency is dealing with these hurdles.

"It's going to be disruptive and it's going to be a challenge," he told me. "We've let people know it'll be one step backwards and two steps forwards."

HART has been doing lots of outreach in the local community, along with making continued efforts to trim costs and reduce the negative impacts of construction. To get a fuller picture of HART's plans, read my feature in our February issue.

As I briefly hinted at earlier, Honolulu's challenges are hardly unique; they're issues facing any transit agency hoping to introduce rail or expand existing systems. If rail is indeed an answer to traffic woes, what's the best way to "sell" it to the public? And how can agencies do a better job of keeping costs in check? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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