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The Money Train

How public projects shape our economic future.

(page 6 of 6)

One group that is 100 percent behind the rail project is the Hawaii Carpenters Union. In the early 1990s, the union had 10,000 members. By the end of the decade, it reached a low of 4,000. Its current membership is 8,000 carpenters. With the current slate of public projects, the union is hoping the upcoming years won’t see such dramatic losses. “It’s helping to offset what didn’t happen in the early ‘90s, when you had no private sector spending and literally no government investment in [capital improvement projects],” says PRP’s Chock.

“You had the perfect storm of bad things happening in a local economy. … These public-sector projects are important because, although there’s contraction in the overall construction tide, the public-sector jobs are keeping our guys at work.” At the moment, the union has 1,500 carpenters statewide on the bench, looking for work.

The timing of the rail project may be its biggest asset. With almost three years of studying and planning and more than 600 community meetings already behind it, a draft environmental impact statement to be released this fall, and a request for proposals waiting in the wings, the project could hit its projected groundbreaking at the end of 2009.

If a ballot initiative succeeds, the HOT lanes project would still need to complete planning and engineering and draft an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a process that will take years. Available funding will need to be determined. In addition, rising energy prices and worldwide demand for construction materials will only drive prices higher.

“Given the current economic problems in Hawaii, I think we need to do everything we can to not lose the almost $1 billion subsidy we would receive for the rail from the federal government,” says Ronald Taketa, financial secretary and business representative for the Hawaii Carpenters Union. “It would be foolish to turn our back on that kind of money. We did it once before in 1992, and we suffered for it. If we haven’t learned from our mistakes, then shame on us."



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Hawaii Business,September