Joining with you all today is probably the most bittersweet moment in my professional career. I am grateful that we have finally arrived at this day, and saddened that the man who led us here is no longer with us.
It was in this very room in September of 1993 that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved and reported the Transportation Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 1994.
During that Committee meeting, the responsibility fell to me to explain to Senator Inouye that the legislation before him proposed to take back $74 million in funds he had previously secured for a rail project in Honolulu and redistribute them to other projects.
The funds went to a project in Boston, Massachusetts being championed by Senator Ted Kennedy, and a project in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that was being championed by Senator Kasten.
The redistrubution of Honolulu’s funds was the result of a member of the Honolulu City Council suddenly flipping her vote, killing the rail project by a vote of 5-4. And as soon as the vote was taken, that same Councilwoman flew to a neighbor island to hide from public view.
Senator Inouye certainly understood why we had to redistribute the money. He was gracious and understanding, as always. But he told me and the other staffers that were gathered around him that day that “he would be back.”
Senator Inouye said he would continue to fight for this project because the congestion problem on the island of Oahu was real, and the hard working people of his state really needed a rail transit option.
Since that day 19 years ago, the congestion on H-1 has gotten steadily worse. The working people in West Oahu have spent more and more time in traffic away from their families, and Dan Inouye has kept fighting to bring them a rail transit option – an option that would get them home in time for dinner. An option to get home in time to supervise homework. An option to see their young children before they had to go to bed.
Thankfully, Senator Inouye did not need to fight this battle on his own. In recent years especially, it has truly been a group effort.
Senator Akaka, from his position on the authorizing committee, made sure that we continued to have the program and policies in place to finance a project of this size.
Representatives Hirono and Hanabusa led the fight in the House of Representatives.
Mayor Carlisle, and Mayor Hannemann before him, continued to drive things forward and set up a truly independent and professional rail transit authority. There was a time when Mufi Hanemann was trying to drive this train so fast, I think some of us worried he was going to drive it right off a cliff. But instead, great progress was made.
The Honolulu City Council has done extraordinary work, making sure the local policies and resources are in place. This is no longer a City Council with 5-to-4 votes that flip back and forth. The measures passed a few weeks ago to move forward with this project prevailed on votes of 8-to-1.
The State legislature cooperated at several stages, especially in hearing Senator Inouye's requests that they NOT divert tax revenues dedicated to transit to other purposes, and make sure that those funds stayed available for transit.
And most importantly, the taxpayers of Oahu have been paying the tax revenue for years now, so they could someday have a rail project and create thousands of desperately needed jobs along the way.
Just this past June, Senator Inouye took to the Senate floor and explained to his colleagues the critical need to move forward with this project. He said “Honolulu recently received the dubious distinction as the city in the United States most besieged by traffic gridlock, surpassing even Los Angeles, New York and Chicago...Rail transit on Oahu has been debated and discussed for nearly forty years and the time for talk is over.” Today, the time for talk is indeed over.
Today, now that the required 30 days for congressional review have passed, Secretary Ray LaHood has directed me to sign the Full Funding Grant Agreement for the Honolulu Rail Project.
Today, we finalize the Federal contribution and make the first $255 million in construction dollars available for the project.
Today we move forward to produce the thousands of promised jobs and shorter commutes.
Nineteen years ago, Senator Inouye promised me that he would be back.
None of us could imagine that when we finally reached this day, he wouldn't be here to join us.
But this event today is truly a culmination of his ceaseless efforts to improve the quality of life for working families in Hawaii.
There may be no better way to honor his memory than to fulfill the goal he has pursued for decades.