Wednesday, October 29, 2008

InfraConsult Goes Ballistic about the EZWay

InfraConsult is a private company hired by the Mufi administration to manage the rail project. Mike Scheider of InfraConsult recently wrote a review of the Kobayashi and Prevedouros plan of the EZWay plan which provides real traffic congestion solutions. It is modular, efficient, affordable and based on solid local expertise for design and construction. All these of course are major threats to the overseas design, engineering, equipment and operation expertise required for trains.

Below is a point to point response.

InfraConsult: A 3-lane wide, 15-mile long elevated highway for “guided buses,” unguided buses, carpools, and single-occupant high-MPG cars will cost more to construct than an elevated rail guideway. A 3-lane highway is more than twice as wide as a guideway for electric trains, and will require considerably more structural reinforcement. Furthermore, anyone who believes that this highway in the sky can be built without a full environmental impact analysis is in serious denial of environmental reality and has little knowledge of state and federal requirements. In fact, work could not begin on such a facility for many years after the first phase of the train is already under construction.

EZWay: The EZWay is a simple elevated structure that cost only $30 million per mile to construct in Tampa, Florida. The EZWay is complete at 15 miles. It has no requirement for guided buses. The rail has a 20 mile starter element that is used in local promotions to deceive the public that it is a four instead of a six billion dollar system. The whole rail system is 30 to 38 miles depending on which politician or land developer you try to please. Although the rail may have a narrower guideway, 20 to 30 massive stations will more that make up the amount of concrete “saved” on the guideway. The EZWay will need an environmental review but the 2.5 mile Nimitz Flyover of it already has a full EIS and was about to go to bid in 2004. It can be built much sooner than rail.

The environmental requirements of having express buses use freeway shoulders are minimal. Some critical stretches can be operational before rail even breaks ground.

InfraConsult: The proposed elevated highway is clearly ineligible for Federal funding from either the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) or the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Section 5309 of the Federal code is unambiguous: No facility that permits single-occupant cars qualifies for New Starts funding from FTA, and no project that is unspecified in the O’ahu Metropolitan Planning Organization (OMPO) long-range plan can receive FHWA funding. Thus, the EZ plan’s major cost elements will have to be borne locally – more than $3 billion for the elevated highway and tunnels, plus the costs of bus facilities, numerous interchanges and grade separations, and over $400 million for new buses – a major cost item which was nowhere to be found in Kobayashi’s plan.

EZWay: One third of the EZWay is a bus-only facility and is fully fundable by the FTA. The rest is a high occupancy facility and can be funded by the Federal Highway Administration which also funded H-1, H-2, H-3 and other key roads throughout Hawaii. InfraConsult and the rail proponents have fixated their mind in the tiny FTA New Starts fund and ignore other relatively huge federal sources. Also, modular plans like the EZWay are far more flexible and eligible for earmarks, of which Senator Daniel Inouye knows a thing or two.

The EZWay does not encourage solo vehicle ridership. On the contrary, it provides a strong travel time savings incentive to carpool. The EZWay will be the first express facility in the nation to explicitly provide an incentive for green and highly efficient vehicles. EZWay allows Honolulu to be an international innovator. Of course, innovation is the last thing in the mind of rail supporters.

InfraConsult: It is unlikely that the transit-related General Excise Tax (GET) supplement will be permitted to fund Kobayashi’s plan, owing to language in the state statute that disallows these monies to be spent building new highway lanes.

EZWay: Fewer than 10 words need to change in the Act to strike out the discriminatory GET surcharge for Oahu. And if rail gets a NO in the ballot, the Act simply has to change and allow for the funding of real solutions.

InfraConsult: There are far too few access points along the proposed elevated highway to permit entry/exit for carpools and buses, causing significantly more driving for local residents and circulator buses to find and enter the elevated highway.

EZWay: This is by design because the plan addresses the huge mobility crisis between leeward and central Oahu on one hand and the primary urban center (PUC). It is not designed as a typical full access freeway between Waipahu and Honolulu. The ramps are designed to maximize quality of flow while serving very large traffic generators like Aloha Stadium, Pearl Harbor, Airport, Mapunapuna, Kalihi, downtown and Kakaako. This is more economical and entirely sufficient for providing substantial relief from congestion.

InfraConsult: Hotel Street simply cannot accommodate more buses without creating further transit gridlock. To assert otherwise defies logic.

EZWay: Only up to 20 express buses per hour destined to Moiliili and the UH may have to go through Hotel Street to connect to the University BRT. Hotel Street can do this. The current occasional peak hour mess on Hotel Street is a testament of mismanagement, not of overloading. TheBus is completely devoid of any tools of advanced fleet management. To give an analogy, many now use third generation cell phones, yet TheBus is run with Hawaii 5-0 style “Motorolas.”

InfraConsult: The operating costs of an all-bus system are 30%-50% higher than for a rail/bus system, which could result in an all-bus program requiring higher taxes for Honolulu residents. In addition, buses are typically replaced every 12-15 years, and rail vehicles every 30-40 years. The math is simple and straightforward.

EZWay: False. Rail alone is a largely useless mode given the densities along the route and the fact that very few people will walk more than a quarter mile to/from a station. Rail requires an extensive bus system. Only in very large cities of well over five million people does rail get sufficient midday and two directional use to make it worth some savings over bus. (But even in New York City buses carry more people than rail.) The proposed rail on Oahu is such a loser because it only offers some useful service for two hours per day per direction, so roughly it is only 10% efficient. Then account that almost half of the year the UH system is not is session and rail’s efficiency drops to 5%.

InfraConsult: Existing lanes for automobiles would need to be removed in and around Downtown to allow buses to operate in bus-only lanes, making traffic congestion in town considerably worse than with an exclusive rail alignment.

EZWay: False, because InfraConsult makes things up. The reason we opposed the Harris BRT was the lane-taking in town. The EZWay proposal has BRT on King and Beretania Streets and uses priority lanes only when parking is prohibited (during peak periods only.) This, along with signal priority provides a fast service to the UH-Manoa with no ill effects to the King and Beretania Street traffic. The EZWay avoids the disastrous Harris BRT plan to permanently take two lanes away from both Kapiolani and Ala Moana Boulevards. The EZWay plan includes no permanent lane taking.

InfraConsult: Regardless of “spin,” it’s clear to all serious-minded people that electric trains are more environmentally friendly than increases in auto and bus usage. Aside from costing commuters far less than driving, a modern rail transit system will aid in our long-range national goal of reducing dependency on foreign oil.

EZWay: The EZWay plan is an engineering blueprint and not a TV commercial made up with distorted statistics targeting the uneducated public and unaware environmentalists.

A significant fact that goes a long way in support of the EZWay is that the 2003 BRT study for Honolulu shows that despite using a lower population and much cheaper cost of gas, the total mass transit ridership with BRT is substantially higher that of the proposed rail and at one fifth the cost.

The EZWay is a substantial upgrade to the 2003 BRT system. The EZWay plan provides for a 15 mile exclusive bus lane which the Regional BRT did not have. So it will have at least 10% more transit riders than Rail at a much lower cost. Its FTA ranking will be far superior to Rail.

The 2003 BRT was part of the Oahu Regional Transportation Plan and EZWay can also become part of the ORTP once the required analysis is complete.

But then the likes of InfraConsult and the Honolulu Advertiser ask: Where is your bureaucratic paperwork, and where are your federal funding guarantees?

It is preposterous for engineering firms with over one hundred million dollar contracts (of our taxes) to require of those opposing rail and offering detailed alternatives to have similar analyses done and have their alternatives included in bureaucratic lists and rankings. It is also sad that in the current state of politics and journalism on Oahu, many politicians and many of the mainstream media instead of questioning the contracted consultants, they too demand detailed analysis and federal guarantees from opposing citizens and engineers!

No comments: