Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Concerns About Honolulu's Rail Project Process Are Mounting

Four important organizations in Hawaii with a long and proud legacy on both environmental and traffic management concerns, The Outdoor Circle, the League of Women Voters, HonoluluTraffic.com and Hawaii's 1,000 Friends are discussing the many and significant flaws in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed rail system for Oahu. See it here: http://www.hvca.org/video.aspx?video=rail.wmv

Meanwhile I am gravely concerned about the Honolulu City Council's haste and lack of desire to insert accountability controls in the budget that includes hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, as described in this article printed in Honolulu Star Bulletin (http://www.starbulletin.com/editorials/20090609_Council_poised_to_go_off_the_rail.html). Full text below:

Honolulu’s Council that represents almost 900,000 people on Oahu is about to make a major fiscal and political error. They are about to grant the authority to the city administration to start rail without environmental approvals and without federal monies. Council also plans to approve to start the project about a mile outside Kapolei, and develop a six mile elevated rail to Waipahu. Worse yet, they plan to approve the float of eleven hundred million dollars in bonds for rail with no stipulations or accountability controls. This $1,100 million obligation must be paid back by the Oahu taxpayer, plus interest.

These actions demonstrate a lack of responsibility, due diligence and common sense. Here is a partial list of what is lacking in this process.

Lack of uncertainty analysis in costs and ridership. The city and its consultants follow the bankrupt Everything Goes According to Plan principle. They have a cost contingency plan but it’ll evaporate by this prolonged recession. Most economists do not predict much growth for at least five years into the future. The city’s solution to insufficient funds will be more taxes, but the feds cannot approve a financial plan that is not ground on current reality.

How about the ridership? This project was justified by the assumption that by 2030 there will be many more residents in leeward Oahu and many more jobs all over Oahu that 738,000 more daily trips would occur in 2030 than in 2005, and 401,000 of these new trips would develop between Aiea, Mililani and Kapolei. Is there anyone that believes that this assumption is correct? The cost-effectiveness criteria for this project are now much lower than calculated in 2006. Updated estimates could disqualify it for federal funds.

Lack of sufficient investigation of technologies more suitable to Oahu’s environment such as underground segments and at-grade segments. True light rail, in full or in part, was never studied.

Lack of sound decision making which would have chosen an initial operating segment between Ala Moana Center and Aloha Stadium.

Lack of sound decision making in proceeding with construction without a completed and specific funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA.) Actually this count alone qualifies Council actions as reckless and contrary to the best interests of the Oahu citizenry that they represent.

The U.S. is broke and the FTA faces several hundred billion dollars of necessary maintenance of existing transit systems including rail and bus fleets, thus billion dollar allocations to new systems are unlikely.

How much taxation escalation and irresponsible decision making is enough before a tipping point is reached and Oahu begins to lose population at an accelerated rate? (Thus making rail even more irrelevant.) Oahu lost a few thousand people from 2006 to the present time. More taxes, less services and rail to nowhere add to the existing misery and are strong incentives for a mass exodus.