Pacific Business News reporter Kathleen Gallagher came up with two critical stories on Honolulu’s rail project over the past two weeks.
On March 15, she reported on the departure of the project’s chief architect, who warned that attempts to cut costs and reduce the projected cost overruns could ““decrease the level of amenity for the stations and other patron facilities to reduce cost in the aesthetically sensitive, downtown section of the city.”
And she noted: “Since there are currently no plans to fill Caswell’s position at HART, the design criteria and standards for the remaining sections of the rail route will likely be left to the discretion of the firms holding the design-build contracts.”
[See “Honolulu rail project’s chief architect departs, warns of project’s future“]
Then, in a follow-up, she tracked down one of the project’s first chief architects, who quit after just a year on the job after his criticisms and recommendations were ignored (“One of rail’s first architects speaks out about elevated design“).
Douglas Tilden was chief architect for InfraConsult, the projects main consultant, in 2007.
Tilden advocated for ditching the all-elevated design and instead adopting less expensive light rail technology, emulating transit projects all around the world.
“It is nothing short of a crime to run it elevated downtown and I told them that,” Tilden said.
The architect also had harsh words for the city’s political decision to begin construction in Kapolei and work back into downtown Honolulu, calling it “sheer lunacy.”
“The key goal of any transit system is to get the people interested by having it downtown first. Honolulu has made a huge mistake.”
He concluded: “I think Honolulu will be a poster child for how not to put a transit system in the city…they couldn’t be doing it any worse, it’s mistake after mistake.”
So here’s how it looks. The city paid big bucks to consultants, presumably to get the best available advice on how to make this transit project work. But the best advice of the consultant’s chief architect was ignored in favor of a plan that supported what the city’s political leaders favored. So the money paid for the architectural consultant was squandered because the city ignored his advice and counsel, and instead pursued its own course for other reasons.
You have to wonder how many other consultants are ignored unless they toe a predetermined political line.