Myth 1: Honolulu will get $900 million from the federal government to help pay for the cost of rail.
Fact: The New Starts program, which would be funding the rail project has its funds allocated until 2010. The rail is nowhere on its list, meaning that we would have to wait until 2011, at the earliest to receive even a chance of getting federal funding.
The $900 is just a figure that the mayor made up and had some politicians or paid consultants repeat it. In constant 2006 dollars we will not get much over $750 million. Note that the New Starts program of the Federal Transit Administration is funded at a level of $1.8 billion for the whole country! Meanwhile, the Highway Trust Fund is broke, so past 2010 it is likely that there will be minimal federal funds for transportation infrastructure.
While the rail project is intended to be funded by the 0.5% increase that was added to the 4% general excise tax (GET) as well as an assumed $900 million from the federal government, if we limited the project to those funds, we would be deep in the red. As of April 2008, 16 months into the tax increase’s fifteen-year lifespan, a total of $211 million was collected, of which the state takes 10% for administrative costs. The city, therefore, after taking out the 10%, is receiving approximately $140 million annually, for a total of $2.1 billion over the life of the increase. That is just over a third of the cost of the $6.4 billion rail project without the federal money, and just under two-thirds of the cost if Honolulu receives all of the funds it would be asking for.
Therefore, a major increase in the property taxes is necessary to complete the 34 mile route to UH and Waikiki. That does not even account for the substantial downturn in U.S. economy and Hawaii tourism which is just getting started.
Another important point here is the cost of rails, trains and other electromechanical systems. All these will be bought from a foreign country or the mainland at a cost of over one billion dollars. So, even if Oahu receives $900 million in federal aid, all of it will be spend on the mainland and in foreign suppliers. No federal funds will ever reach Oahu.
Myth 2: Rail will reduce traffic congestion.
Fact: The congestion on the roads will be far worse with rail than it is today. According to the city’s Alternatives analysis, the H-1 freeway, currently carries almost 11,000 vehicles during the peak hour. In 2030 with rail, the same lanes are predicted to be carrying over 17,000 vehicles in the peak hour – an increase of over 50%. We know that the freeway is at capacity already and cannot carry additional traffic. Any additional traffic will simply have to wait in line for increasingly longer times before being able to go through. What does this mean for 2030?
These 17,000 vehicles carry well over 25,000 people in one hour. The rail has a maximum capacity per hour of 9,000 (and 6,000 of them will be standees.) In 2030, the rail is predicted to run nearly full. So these 25,000 people per hour cannot go on the rail and have to use their cars. Their commute will be over two hours long. Do you see how useless the expenditure of $6.4 billion for rail is?
It is also pure fantasy to point to the rail as a savior when there is an incident on the freeway. Nobody can leave their car on the freeway and jump on the rail line. A reversible set of managed lanes can be easily configured to address an major road closure and these lanes will be a life saver for critical emergencies. Rail will be of no use during and after a hurricane.
I feel for the Waianae coast residents that have to endure nearly a two hour commute every day. Rail will make it much longer regardless of whether they drive or catch the rail. I shiver with the thought of someone having a health emergency in Waianae in rush hour. There is simply no roadway capacity either now or in 2030 to take him or her to a major hospital in a reasonable time for survival. Rail simply takes current conditions and makes them twice as bad in 2030. The story is similar for Ewa Beach, Wahiawa and Mililani. Only reversible lanes can provide the needed capacity for tolerable commuting times and timely emergency responses.
Myth 3: Rail is fast.
Fact: The rail line is expected to average only about 25 miles per hour, and is predicted to be slower than travel by car between Aiea (Pearlridge) and Downtown. Using data from the city-generated Alternatives Analysis and simulating a commute from the H1/H2 merge to Aloha tower, a rail transit line would reduce H-1 congestion approximately 3%, reducing drive times from 34 to 33 minutes. A rail commuter would make the same trip in approximately 41 minutes. Note that rail takes longer than driving.
If managed lanes and bus rapid transit (BRT), or rail, were available today, a trip from Kapolei to the UH at Manoa would take 50 minutes by bus and 42 minutes by car on the managed lanes and BRT system. The same trip on rail transit would take 75 minutes. Like TheBoat, TheRail will not provide time competitive service and our figures do not include additional travel times for connections and transfers on rail.