Kawasaki City subway proposal becomes election issue again
“It would be really convenient,” says housewife Tomotsuka Miki (34yo), who was walking with her one-year-old son along a bus road in Sugao, Miyamae Ward, Kawasaki City.
On the other side of the city, things are different. “I don’t expect I’d be using it very much,” says Kiyama Yutaka (38yo), who lives in Imai Minamichō, Nakahara Ward and uses Musashi Kosugi Station on his commute to and from his job at a school. “I don’t believe it’s necessary at all. There’s other things they should be doing,” remarks a housewife (67yo) from Kyōmachi in Kawasaki Ward.
All are reactions to Kawasaki City’s Municipal Subway Project. The project is the focus of heated debates during mayoral elections, with support varying wildly from one neighborhood to the next.
A proposal to construct a subway traversing Kawasaki City first surfaced in 1960. As a result of financial difficulties, the project has since gone through numerous ups and downs, with the current incarnation of the proposal being advanced by city officials calling for an initial phase between Shin-Yurigaoka and Musashi Kosugi. The latest rendition is estimated to cost ¥433.6 billion, ¥1 billion less than the estimates for the original plan, but the new alignment has yet to receive project approval from the national government.
“It will be difficult to get project approval under a Democratic administration which has been calling for a reevaluation of public works projects,” admit project supporters in the City Council. Even if the national government gave expedited approval to the project, the line would open in 2020 at the earliest.
While the project receives substantial attention every four years as a result of mayoral elections, in reality, the proposal is still at a stalemate.
Perhaps as a result, interest in the project is generally low among city residents. In Miyamae Ward, which has limited rail access, a federation of all neighborhood associations in the ward submitted a petition to the City Council in 1996, with rail pushed as the preferred solution. But housewife Ishikawa Mana (34yo) from Tsuchihashi smiles sarcastically, saying, “When I was talking with my friends about when the subway would open, none of us knew how long it would take.”
As a massive project, Kiyama is doubtful. “I’m not convinced they can operate without a deficit. Are they really considering cost vs. benefit?” Residents from Kawasaki Ward, which is completely detached from the initial phase of the subway proposal, say they had completely forgotten about the project.
The city’s Rapid Rail Transit Construction Department says the subway offers multiple benefits, including improving transportation access to currently poorly-served areas, reduced overcrowding on the existing lines such as the Nambu Line and Den’en Toshi Line, and an “increased sense of connection between city residents.” In response to the prolonged planning process for the line, department officials stress, “Yokohama’s Minato Mirai Line, which opened in 2004, also had its original proposal scrapped. Public works projects simply take time.”
The subway proposal is a question that each political camp has taken a position on, but how will city residents respond?