Panos Prevedouros: ‘A civil engineer is the perfect professional for the job’

Steve Jackson

Elephant in the Room
with Steve Jackson

HONOLULU—At the pinnacle of the Honolulu rail debate two years ago, Panos Prevedouros, a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering since 1990, championed Hawaii’s anti-rail cause for people who felt that not enough was done to explore the alternatives.

Prevedouros became a candidate for Honolulu mayor in 2008 and finished third in the primary election after receiving 28,792 votes (17.2 percent). Prevedouros would go on to endorse Ann Kobayashi, who came in second in the primary, after working together on a plan to ease Hawaii’s traffic that combined ideas from both camps. The efforts by Prevedouros and Kobayashi, however, was not enough to overtake incumbent Mufi Hannemann at the end of the race.

With Hannemann’s resignation in 2010 to run for Hawaii governor, Prevedouros announced his intent to become a candidate again for Honolulu mayor.

Prevedouros brings a wealth of background in traffic and transportation engineering. The Hawaii Independent columnist Steve Jackson sat down with the mayoral candidate to talk about his strategy this time around.

Would you please explain your disagreement with the City’s rail plans?
It’s simple. We cannot solve a traffic problem with a transit solution. The Federal Transit Administration clearly says that mass transit hardly ever dents congestion. We said this with TheBoat, which was a major mass transit failure of the Hanneman and Kirk Caldwell administration. The cost per ride was $34 and the fare was $2. It was a sure way to flush $6 million in two years with nothing to show for it and they did exactly that. TheRail is an exact copy of TheBoat, only the M is a B, as in a billion dollars this time.

It is not a secret that TheRail will have no effect on traffic congestion. According to the Final EIS:

* Bus currently carries 6 percent of the trips. After 6 billion dollars, TheBus and The Rail combined will carry 7 percent of the trips.

* So 93 percent will be auto dependent and traffic in 2030 with rail will be far worse than it is today.

* Traffic in 2030 with or without the rail will be the same.

* The rail will delete all express bus routes.

* The rail will add $70 million to TheBus’ $150 million annual operating budget. A heck of a way to save!

* The Federal Transit Administration ranks our financial plan as “low” (meaning that the financial plan is suspect). Under normal circumstances (i.e., without Inouye) this system would be DOA.

Besides rail, what issues would you tackle if you are elected?
The City faces three grand issues besides rail: 1. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree. 2. Dilapidated condition of roads, parks and water mains. 3. Large mounting long term debt.

The EPA consent decree for fixing the sewers and building two secondary treatment plants comes to a minimum total cost of $7.2 billion before overruns. It is far larger than rail and it is a “must do,” so rationally the sewers flushed the rail down the toilet. To upgrade parks, roads, and water mains from a poor to medium condition we need $4 billion more and we already have over $1 billion in past debt, bringing our total to over $12 billion or over $13,000 in extra taxes for each and every resident on Oahu. Who in his right mind would add another $6,000 per resident for rail to that tax burden?

“I can add and divide, something that neither Carlisle nor Caldwell can do.”

What do you have to offer that the incumbent does not?
There is really no incumbent in this race. Caldwell will be acting mayor for about two months, hardly an incumbency and that’s good because it evens out the race.

As I demonstrated in the previous question, I can add and divide, something that neither Carlisle nor Caldwell can do. In addition, the City mayor job is the management of vast infrastructure and operations. A civil engineer is the perfect professional for the job. A lawyer is not. Honolulu had a civil engineer as its mayor for 19 years in the 1940s and 1950s. Johnny Wilson, for whom we named the Wilson tunnels on Likelike Highway.

Additionally, I have had over 1,000 engineering students in my classes since 1990. Over half of the city’s engineers have been my students. I won’t be their boss. I will be their sensei, working collaboratively with them for the public good.

How would you help to boost the economy in Hawaii?
With shovel ready projects done with 100 percent local jobs—road pavements, sewers, and park improvements. The rail is not even an approved project—can’t start construction until 2012 if we wait for actual federal funds. Even then, rail is not a major jobs booster. The first 6 mile contract will require 350 construction jobs, all the rest is imported technology, which is much like buying an airplane. It too creates jobs ... in Seattle.

The money is not even going to stay in the United States. Typical rail systems are Mitsubishi (Japan), Hyundai (Korea), Bombardier (Canada), or Siemens (Germany). The United States does not have passenger rail technology.

How would you help to improve the quality of education in Hawaii?
The mayor can provide good roads, safe sidewalks and road crossings, clean water and efficient sewer service to schools. The mayor has no direct impact on schools. However, rail will affect some schools very negatively by coming very close to them with a huge superstructure and with permanent noise if completed.

What is your stance on House Bill 444 and why?
Gay and lesbian issues are not decided at the City level. As mayor I will not discriminate on the base of age, gender, ethnicity, or sexual preference. As a private citizen my views are moderate and I abide by the respective laws.

Why do you think you would be a better mayor than the other candidates?
A civil engineer is the better choice for Honolulu mayor. As New York City Mayor LaGuardia used to say ... “there are no Republican streets and there are no Democrat streets; there are only clean streets!” I plan to provide clean streets and clean professional management.

For the next 10 years, the City needs its sewers fixed and real traffic congestion relief. Why would anyone hire a lawyer to accomplish these?

I offer new, proven and sensible ideas, a change from the status quo, a departure from the pay-to-play schemes and institutionalized corruption, which is clearly evident in my opponents’ campaign contribution lists. All special interests are there and in large amounts.

For more information, visit