Wednesday, October 15, 2008

6 Questions for the EZWay

A past governor of the State of Hawaii sent me a half dozen questions about the EZWay Transportation Solution that I developed in collaboration with mayoral candidate Ann Kobayashi and her advisors as well as a number of local and overseas advisors. My personal responses are listed below:

(1) How will you respond to the criticism that federal funding will not be available?

The project is fully eligible for both FTA and FHWA funds. A busway fully qualifies as a "fixed guideway" by FTA definition and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are on priority funding for both FTA and FHWA.

The Federal Transit Administration is a strong proponent of Bus Transit and BRT in most cases is a better substitute for light rail.

(2) Does the legislature have to amend the law empowering the city to impose the 1/2% increase in the general excise tax to fund EZ-Way?

The key here is the "rail vote" on the November 4 ballot.

If the rail vote comes in favor of rail, then both candidates will likely embark on some rail route.

If the "rail vote" comes against rail, then the EZWay plan is ready for deployment or EIS. The Act calls for the "fixed guideway" and exclusive elevated bus-only lanes is a fixed guideway.

(3) Compared to Mufi's rail transit construction costs how accurate are the estimated costs for EZ-Way?

The Plan's costs are accurate. In addition to estimates I have, today I received the spreadsheet analysis from a local heavy construction estimation expert. His estimation includes a 50 ft. wide deck, railings, all drainage and lighting. The estimate for 15 miles of EZWay 3-lane guideway is $818,634,000 in 2008 dollars.

The EZWay project is 1/2 the length of rail and we maintain 1/2 of their contingency funds to cover uncertainties. This is conservative because EZWay does not have the techical complexity of rail or the total unfamiliarity of the local workforce in putting together a rail line.

(4) How do the estimated operating and maintenance costs compare for the two systems?

Throughout the nation buses in cities with rail systems carry over twice the load of passengers and cost less than half the per pax-mile cost of rail. Of course in places like LA, the contribution of light rail to total transit trips is minimal. Oahu knows how to run buses and has no clue about rail. The development of a Transit Authority will be a new and large government entity with large permanent costs in salaries, benefits and facilities. None of this is necessary for the EZWay plan.

Rail may save a few "drivers" but adds large numbers of personnel for security, rail station attendants, rail ticket inspectors, parking attendants, guideway and station maintenance crews, and a crew for the complex maintenance and storage rail yard.

Today a transit bus and its driver are stuck for 45 minutes on H-1 inbound in the morning. With EZWay, the same bus will go from Waipahu to downtown in 15 minutes, thus the same bus can do basically two or more trips instead of one. The existing TheBus fleet would be adequate if we were to deploy the system today.

5) What is the estimated cost of the so-called mini-tunnel?

If no utilities are there and require relocation and if and no iwi is found, it can be built for $50M to $75M depending on its exact configuration. If issues arise, the cost can reach the $100M to $125M range, but the Alakea and Halekauwila underpasses (collectively referred to as the downtowen mini-tunnel) would still remain a cost-effective project.

6) What is the point from which construction will begin?

Unlike the train to nowhere that will start in Kapolei and in three years it might reach Aloha Stadium (that's over two billion dollars and three years of pure waste of time and money,) the EZWay plan will reduce congestion by over 10% within three years. Basically in three years the EZWay plan will provide more congestion relief on Oahu than rail will ever do regardless of its length (10, 20 or 34 miles.)

The EZWay Plan is deployed in two phases, as follows:

For immediate traffic relief the Plan deploys the Nimitz Flyover from the Keehi junction to Pier 16. This can be built in 10 months or less and this project has an approved 1996 EIS. At the same time Phase 1 deploys the King/Beretania line of the University BRT.

The downtown underpasses need to get environmental assessment and preliminary engineering, so these two along with a few more potential underpasses are part of Phase 1. These are small localized projects costing between $15M and $50M each, so study, design and approvals can be obtained in 15 to 18 months.

Phase 2 is the "main course" which includes:
  • Elevated reversible EZWay from the H-1/H-2 merge to Keehi interchange
  • H-1 freeway shoulder improvements from Kapolei to the H-1/H-2 merge
  • Selected "queue jumpers" to get express buses over long lines of traffic at congested traffic lights.

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