HONOLULU — Former Honolulu acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday took an early lead over former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano in the race to be the city’s top executive.
Cayetano came out of retirement to run for mayor and stop the city’s construction of a $5 billion rail line from the western suburbs to the city’s center. He instead wants to expand bus routes and contraflow lanes while building an elevated roadway to alleviate traffic. Cayetano says his transit plan will only cost $1.1 billion.
Caldwell, a former state representative and acting mayor, vows to stay the course and build the rail line but says he’ll take a critical look at plans for station locations and visual appearance.
Both candidates finished ahead of incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle in the August primary but neither won a majority of the ballots cast, sending them to a runoff in the general election.
Carolyn Nakamura, a 47-year-old from Kailua, picked Cayetano Tuesday because she thinks Honolulu’s rail plan is unrealistic and too expensive.
But her neighbor Craig Washofsky, 56, said he voted for Caldwell because he thinks Cayetano only ran on the issue of rail.
“I think that Kirk has a broader vision for the city,” he said.
Danny Taba of Honolulu said he voted for Caldwell because the city needs a train.
“I’ve been to many countries where they have rail, and I’ve seen the efficiency of it, and I love it,” said Taba, an 83-year-old retired airline worker. “I know that we’re going to need it someday. Maybe not now, but we’re going to need it in the future as the population grows.”
Traffic has been one of Oahu’s biggest issues for decades.
Many residents of Oahu’s west side face commutes of well over an hour from suburbs to the city center. Cars jam the H-1 freeway, the only major highway running from the west side to town. The problem is only projected to get worse as new homes are built in the area.
The rail line would travel 20 miles from Kapolei — Oahu’s “second city” — to Ala Moana, next to Waikiki. Later extensions could take the train to the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus and into Waikiki.
Public opinion on rail has fluctuated over the years.
Honolulu voters gave rail the go ahead in 2008, when 53 percent cast ballots in favor of then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s plan to build a steel-wheeled system.
But the project continues to have outspoken opponents.
In July, 50 percent of respondents to a poll by Ward Research for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now said they wanted to stop rail, while 44 percent said construction should continue.
A lack of federal funding helped scuttle a shorter rail line in 1981. Another try in the early 1990s faltered when the City Council voted against a tax increase, despite a commitment from the federal government to pay one-third of its $1.8 billion cost.