Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Two Dozen Questions for the City’s Rail Propaganda, Strike That, DEIS

A person in a local government position sent me a list of concerns and questions that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the City and County of Honolulu (which simplistically and conveniently narrowed our choices down to steel-on-steel rail and do nothing) should answer but it mostly does not. Any reader of the DEIS will notice that it is big on discussion and small on specific answers and mitigation plans. The owner of this blog did not provide input or alter any information on the following list of 24 items.

1. Building costs are understated, future increases in construction, labor, and material costs are not reported nor mentioned. Also, some of the City's plans for the terminals/terminus are incomplete, missing substructures, rails, handi-access, etc. Was this to artificially deflate the reportable costs? If so the City's entire plan is flawed, and fraudulent.

2. No mention is made of a turn-around or depot. There will undoubtedly be a maintenance yard or some related facility to take the tram down for repairs. This is not mentioned.

3. The Administration has made repeated assurances that the project will be done with minimal impact to neighboring areas, residents, businesses. This cannot be the case. Building and construction guidelines are very specific, requiring x amount of relief space, and will require shutdown of adjoining lots, properties, streets and roads.

4. Many of the people who realized their properties will be (eventually) condemned via eminent domain are under the absolutely mistaken impression that they will be receiving the (at future time) full market value (fmv) of their properties. This is not the case. Research into the City's sojourns into exercising eminent domain muscle reveals that they set aside a lump sum amount, to be paid to defendants served with the Order Putting Plaintiff in Possession (i.e. City). Wording is usually like this: "The sum of $xx,xxx deposited with the Chief Clerk of this Court by the Plaintiff as estimated just compensation..." Usually the award is a few pennies on the dollar of the actual value of the condemned and claimed property. The defendant usually has no recourse. Waianae residents were notified last July that they were losing portions of their property, after construction had already begun for the emergency access road.

5. Regarding property, it is likely the rail system will negatively affect property values. Cities have trended that property values drop near an existing commuter or rail line. The noise negates, for most people, the benefit of proximity to a transit line. Many cities found that rail ridership decreased, in favor of buses, bicycles, and scooters.

6. I personally believe most people would favor a scooter over inconvenience of driving to a depot yard and park their car with thousands of others, to catch a rail to work.

7. The lifespan of a typical rail system is about 30 years. Thereafter, it must be 100% wholly replaced at full value at that future time. It's simply a matter of infrastructure breakdown.

8. The lifespan of a typical tram system (light rail) is about 15 years. Thereafter, it must be 100% wholly replaced, or else repaired to the point where it's economically unfeasible.

9. The mathematics of the City's plan to take 50,000 drivers off the road is not practical nor possible. Let's assume the City is extremely aggressive and forward-thinking in their planning. Let's say they build two rail systems, one that begins in point A (Kapolei area) and the other begins in point B (Downtown). Let's say there are 12 cars to a train (no longer considered light rail), each holding 200 passengers, which is 2,400 passengers total capacity per train, going a single way, or 4,800 passengers for the entire system. Let's say the trains will cross each other in the middle, so there is always a train going and coming in both directions. In order to meet the Administration's goal to take an approximate 50,000 drivers off the road at that future time, the trains will have to travel about 77 miles per hour, nonstop, in order to make the approximate 10 round trips each train will have to make, in an hours' time. This oversimplified math problem underlies the fatal flaw in the plan. The City's plan for light rail does not have the capacity for 4,800 total passengers at any given time. This would be rush hour in the morning, from 5:30AM to 8:30AM, and 3:30PM to 6:30PM. It is not mathematically possible to do it with the above configuration, nor with the City's proposed version, which is much smaller passenger capacity. This may be decried by the Administration as "Mickey Mouse Math" but the figures cannot be doubted. The rail will not accomplish what it is envisioned to.

10. The City's proposed 6,000+ jobs to directly or indirectly support the rail system, operations, maintenance, support services, administration, and vendor services, is not economically sustainable. The vendors have the best bet, at least people will stop on the way to buy coffee, pastries, morning paper, etc. But wait, they can't because the system has to run without stops to make its rush hour quotas.

11. The City's Transportation Department has in effect given their current employees a potential for higher-paying and more executive jobs, "fresh" and new. The current employees are capped where they are at, but the Rapid Transit Division (the most expensive and largest Division by staff and dollars) is a way for them to move up. See their presentation here: If you scroll down to page 7, you will see "Rapid Transit Division", 35 proposed executive and administrative support positions, costing a whopping $2,338,644 in staff costs, dwarfing their next largest Division by over $500,000, but has only 1 position more. This indicates that, given civil service positions and current pay scales, these are much higher and more executive positions, possibly (POSSIBLY) created this way by the Transportation Department to give their currently “ceilinged” staff someplace to go, and retire happily with a healthy retirement pay.

12. No amount of ridership fees could make up the construction, maintenance, and daily operations costs of the entire rail system. Notwithstanding the payroll costs. The majority of the costs will become personnel-related, such as 41+% fringe rate, immediate salaries plus vacation payouts and other benefits. Throw in maintenance? That's also a personnel cost, with OT attached, at City & County rates. You know, 12 maintenance workers scheduled to perform upkeep, each files OT requests, however only 1 or 2 actually do majority of the work. A recent audit found many road crews operate in this fashion. However the audit was for City internal use only.

13. No amount of taxes can make up the total cost plus ongoing upkeep. The burden on the taxpayers of the state would be astronomical, it could not possibly be estimated.

14. People who voted "YES" did not realize, they were not really indebting themselves, but their progeny, to a lifetime of debt service to this system. It cannot possibly be completed before, say, 2025 or 2030, when most of those who voted will be at or nearing retirement, and it will no longer make a difference for them. Many people simply jumped on the bandwagon without really thinking things through.

15. A raised rail system lumbering many stories above buildings and 1-2 storey homes and apartments in the proposed areas would ruin not just the overall landscape, but many people's enjoyment of the view looking out not to the ocean, but the SKY.

16. The Administration's claim is that if they get this project going now, they can jumpstart the state's economy and provide much-needed jobs through construction. This is short-term a truth, however if there exists no money to begin with, and the Council on Revenue's forecast shows a current year deficit, with factors of debt in the out-years, where is the funding going to come from? It reminds me of a very ambitious building project in Downtown that sat for many years until another investor came by. Only the Federal Gov't can deficit spend. How can you ambitiously plan alternate and future routes (as the Council is debating now) without having any up-front direct revenues, investor venture capital, bond interest, or other form of monies on hand to even "break ground"?

17. Construction costs are years away, when materials, labor, and rates will be much higher. Final completion costs can be many times the $5 Billion thrown in front of the hapless public. And, once construction begins, final completion can be upwards of 20 years away, including the various legal battles and hurdles the City will no doubt face, in battling hundreds of home and landowners, businesses, and action groups. It will be unprecedented in our State's history, and will likely bring embarrassment to us nationally.

18. Speaking of attention, it is likely that people will prefer (as they do now) places such as Tahiti, Fiji, Thailand, and New Zealand, over Oahu anyway. Many tourists surveyed by the HTA recently said they'd never come back if the beaches eroded. What happens if (i.e. by the year 2030) the beach in Waikiki is a memory, hotels are literally flooded, AND there is a lumbering, leviathan, hulking, clackety, metallic silver worm snaking its way through Downtown? Realistically, do you think any tourists would come to Honolulu, except to use it as a springboard from the Mainland USA to their exotic destination in the far Pacific or Asia?

19. Other states that the Administration quoted as having successful rail systems have something that Hawaii will never have, regardless of how much development we want to create - land space. If anything, Hawaii - due to current erosion - can do nothing but lose land space, at least in Honolulu County. In order for the rail to be plopped down, people who are already there have to make way. As our proud and defiant mayor has proclaimed in various ways, "...anyone opposing this will have to just get out of the way..." The first time he said it on TV, we passed it off to his frustration and lack of self-control. Thereafter, it is a clear indication of absolute superciliousness, self-love, and hubris which I do not ever recall seeing in any of our recent mayors of my memory. The sign of a bad publican is to - even modestly - threaten to shove it down the peoples' collective throats when his way is challenged, and his personal progress slowed.

20. The Administration does not inform the public of the following: Chicago Mass Transit (Chicago Transit Authority), one of the original models for an earlier proposed transit system, is bankrupt. If not yet, pretty darn near. The cost of doing business has long overrun the intake due to ridership, which has decreased over the last 30 years. Even their bus ridership is down, largely due to increased crime in poverty-stricken areas near the center of town. Unfortunately for us, Pearl City & Mililani are becoming what Kalihi and Liliha have long been - our native slum.

21. Sound is a pressure wave that emanates radially outward from its source, decreasing as the inverse square of that distance the listener is from it. The City's contention that erecting short walls, combined with the raised platform, will decrease noise to a minimal level, is preposterous beyond laughable. Any system, even a rolling wheeled vehicle, creates a significant amount of noise, and particularly at night. Anyone who lives near the University or along the H-1 between McCully through Pearl City knows this. Even if it is no louder than a small grass whip, it will be noticed, and people will be driven out. I used to live in a small apartment on Thurston Avenue in Makiki, and the simple act of the bus rolling at 11 at night was enough to jolt this young child - at that time - awake from a light sleep.

22. Due to Homeland Security regulations involving public transportation, the City & County would have to establish, and integrate into the Honolulu Police Department, a separate Honolulu Rapid Transit Police force, or else divert current - or future - officers to that duty. Security screens may be necessary at depots as well, adding to delays (but wait, they can't stop right?)

23. The Administration claims that the economy will be stimulated, looking at (i.e.) Denver, Portland, and San Jose light rail development, don't realize that those systems were supported by large tax or other subsidies, something dramatically lacking in Hawaii's economy. Even the current tax collected for transit is far short of proposed levels they would have to be at for the system to be a reality.

24. Finally, no mention is made as to whether this light rail system can accommodate passengers (i.e. from the airport) with large luggage, or whether stowage space is or can be provided for safety, comfort, and security of others?