Thursday, December 23, 2010

Gasoline Price Comparisons: Taxes not Octanes Matter

The original subject is gasoline prices but before we know it, the story becomes about taxes. The graph below shows the stark contrast between 10 states in the U.S. and 10 countries in the European Union, or E.U.

Among the states shown, the lowest gas price is in Oklahoma at $2.532/gallon and the highest is in Hawaii at $3.54/gallon. This one dollar difference is actually a 40% difference. Among the EU countries shown, the lowest gas price is in Spain at $5.496/gallon and the highest is in The Netherlands at $7.382/gallon, a 34% difference between them. The gasoline price in The Netherlands is 110% higher than Hawaii’s. (June 2010 US$ and EU euro rates.)

A similar situation is observed for a small sample of worldwide islands (see below). Most island gasoline prices are twice as high as those in Hawaii. Despite the high prices, all cities in the islands shown have significant problems with congestion. This is because gasoline pricing tends to affect vehicle choice, and has a small effect only on vehicle ownership and use.

At places where gasoline price is relatively low, the typical vehicle has a V6 engine and delivers about 20 mpg in city usage. At places where gasoline price is twice as high, the typical vehicle is a 3 or 4 cylinder subcompact delivering about 40 mpg in city usage. So based on these vehicle choices, driving 12,000 miles per year at either place costs the same for fuel.

Going back to the first graph and comparing The Netherlands with Hawaii we ask: What can possibly explain a 110% difference for the same gas? It’s not technology, it’s not manufacturing, and it’s not transportation. These are less than half of the story. The “larger half” is taxes! See below:

Governments worldwide use taxes to finance general budgets and other infrastructure. Fuel taxes are among the first to be increased when budgets cannot be met. The price of gasoline is “inelastic” as economists call it, that is, a large change in the price of gas (say, +30%) does not correspond to a proportionally large change in highway travel (-10%). This is generally true for urban travel and less so for intercity travel where larger travel reductions may be observed.

Overall the lesson here is that taxes on gasoline are a cash cow for governments. Gas tax does practically nothing in reducing congestion. It may reduce pollution somewhat by forcing lower income people to purchase smaller cars, but it does this at a very high overall cost. The overall cost is high because a large part of the economy worldwide “rides on the streets.” Foods, goods and services need to be brought to the market, delivered, installed and maintained.

Expensive gas makes for expensive commuting, repair services, food and appliances. Gas taxation limits mobility, slows economy and reduces the standard of living.

In more general terms, high energy costs exacerbated by heavy taxation on them are a brake in progress. For a vibrant economy, countries and regions need to optimize their energy portfolio and reduce the taxes on it.

Hawaii energy costs are high and climbing. If the status quo continues (oil dependency and heavy subsidies on low productivity and hyper expensive alternatives), then by definition Hawaii’s long term economic outlook cannot be rosy.

Acknowledgment: Recent civil engineering graduate Michelle Coskey
conducted a large part of the research and data compilation in this article.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yet Another U.S. City Reveals Politicians' Rail Lies

Audit: Norfolk officials knew of light-rail overruns, kept silent. Cost overruns of 45% were hidden very much like Honolulu Transit Division hides from inquiries submitted by city council members and refused to cooperate with Governor Linda Lingle consultant investigating the proposed rail's finances.

Here's the story at Norfolk, Virginia: "City officials knew costs skyrocketed since 2007 but failed to reveal information to City Council. State inspector general indicated that HRT officials intentionally misled federal, state and some city officials about the amount of the overruns, to the point of maintaining a second set of books."

Norfolk is building a 7.4-mile light-rail line, the biggest public works project in Norfolk’s history. Originally $232M, now ballooned to $338 million, paid for with federal, state and city funds.

This excerpt also makes painfully clear the difference between heavy and light rail. Light rail in Norfolk is costing them $46 million per mile including the 45% cost overruns. Honolulu's heavy rail will cost $265 million per mile plus overruns. This is yet another version of Peter Carlisle's definition of "fiscally responsible."

If you recall, the other one is that rail will cost us about one million dollars for every car it will allegedly remove.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chromium-6 In Honolulu's Tap Water

Original post below. Please read the endnote.
In 1996 the cancer-stricken residents of Hinkley, CA won a $333 million settlement from PG&E for contaminating their tap water with hexavalent chromium, which is commonly abbreviated as chromium-6. This was the basis of the 2000 movie
Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts.

Fast forward to 2010: Tap water from 31 of 35 U.S. cities tested contains chromium-6 according to laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG). [Click for a summary of the EWG report.] The highest levels were detected in Norman, Okla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Riverside, California, as the table below shows.

City ------------------------ Population ----- Chromium-6 in Tap Water
Norman, Oklahoma ---------- 89,952 --------------- 12.9 ppb
Honolulu, Hawaii ----------- 661,004 --------------- 2.00 ppb
Riverside, California ------- 280,832 --------------- 1.69 ppb
Madison, Wisconsin -------- 200,814 --------------- 1.58 ppb
San Jose, California -------- 979,000 --------------- 1.34 ppb

The EPA has not yet set a limit for chromium-6 in water despite mounting evidence of the contaminant’s toxic effects, including an EPA draft toxicological review that classifies it as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” when consumed in drinking water.

According to EWG, the National Toxicology Program has found that chromium-6 in drinking water shows clear evidence of carcinogenic activity in laboratory animals, increasing the risk of otherwise rare gastrointestinal tumors.

California officials last year proposed setting a public health goal for chromium-6 in drinking water of 0.06 parts per billion (ppb). The level of chromium-6 in Honolulu's tap water is 33 times over this proposed limit.
Note added on December 29, 2010: This article suggests that the Chromium-6 reported amount in tap water is of no consequence to human health.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Those Who Ignore History Are Likely To Repeat It !

Cradle to Grave -- The Holistic View for Sustainability

I am from Waipahu High School. May I ask you a question about hydropower for my science project? In your opinion, will hydropower energy be a successful alternative energy in the future? Will it prevent global warming?
Donnalynn Agpaoa

Donnalynn's question is important and almost universal. Its generic version is: Will Technological Option X be a successful alternative? I'll get to the generic form later, but first, here is my answer to her.

Hydro-power can be very powerful. Its electricity generation is clean, and reliable for 100+ years, if designed properly. Kauai has a small but successful hydro-power generator.

Now lets take account of the negatives.

Hydro-power can destroy ecosystems, and in some cases villages, cities and regional cultures may disappear, as they become submerged in the reservoir (lake) behind the dam.

The dam itself may be viewed as an eyesore. Also it is somewhat risky. If it fails, there will be catastrophe downstream.

One important consideration in the total picture is the amount of steel and concrete that's needed to build the dam. The amount is massive and the manufacture of the necessary steel and concrete will create a lot of pollution. Similarly, the machinery that will build the dam will pollute as it works to build the dam, and the machinery itself created pollution when it was built.

So, say, a Caterpillar front-loader has a life of 30 years and will work at the dam site for 1.5 years. Therefore 5% of the resources and pollution that went to manufacture the front-loader need to be "billed" to the dam project.

We have to take into consideration all these cradle-to-grave sustainability impacts in order to correctly derive the total impact of the proposed hydro-power infrastructure.

As for your hydro-power question, the correct answer is that it can be green but not necessarily. We need to evaluate each and every proposed project, add all its pluses and minuses, and then decide if it is a good project.


In general now, in several cases what appears "green" or "good" is the opposite when all its impacts are accounted for. For example, electricity produced by coal or oil is neither clean nor green.

That's one of the reasons that I oppose the city's elevated heavy rail plan. The promoters call it green, the engineering calls it dark black!

And that's one of the reasons environmentalists dislike the new EPA ratings for electric cars. For example, the Nissan Leaf gets 106 mpge (or MPG-equivalent). Quoting the LA Times:

"Things got hairy with the Leaf. The EPA worked out a formula in which an electric car using 33.7 kilowatt-hours of electricity was considered equivalent to a standard vehicle using a gallon of gasoline.

[On the other hand, a better] process would consider all the greenhouse gases released from the time the electricity is first generated until it is sent through transmission lines to charging units. Based on such measurements, the Leaf would rack up more than 250 grams of CO2 and other emissions every mile, according to data from the Energy Department's Argonne National Lab. Gasoline-fueled cars on average release 450 grams a mile.

The fact that the emissions came from a coal plant producing electricity in Utah is just as bad as if they came out of the tailpipe."

Sustainability is often misused for marketing purposes but in the right hands it provides a mindset and tools to get a holistic view of the impacts of a technological option as small as a solar panel or a household appliance, and as large as a hydro-power dam or a transportation system.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Taxes Poison Growth. Hawaii Politicians Love Taxes. Stagnation!

In the text below, I copy the analysis done by the Illinois Policy Institute titled Do Higher Taxes Chase Away People, Wealth, and Jobs?

I changed one word: Illinois to Hawaii. It all makes perfect sense for Hawaii. With one difference: Illinois charges moderate-to-high taxes. Hawaii charges very high taxes. So the call to reduce taxation is much more urgent for Hawaii than it is for Illinois.

Nationwide data from the last ten years show states that limit their tax burdens economically outperform those that don’t. High taxation drives people, wealth, and jobs out. Lawmakers should emulate the low-tax, business-friendly policies of high-growth states.

The table below makes it clear: Nationwide data indicate that high tax burdens hurt economic growth. From 1998 to 2008, the ten lowest-taxed states economically outperformed the ten highest-taxed states on many key measures.

The lowest-taxed states (2008 state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income) include Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, Colorado, Missouri, Oregon, Alabama, Tennessee, New Hampshire, and South Dakota.

The highest-taxed states include Alaska, New York, Wyoming, North Dakota, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Connecticut.

The economic "winners circle" is clear. Hawaii is nowhere near it. Government spending reduction and tax reduction are necessary. The alternative is what we've got: Prolonged economic stagnation and prayer that the tourists will come. And for those who did not get to the bottom of it yet, the proposed rail is permanent heavy taxation, the results of which are described in the table above.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chronology of Mufi's Rail (Update 1)

Here is the rail update at the conclusion of 2010.

2004: Rail will cost $2.7 Billion and 1% GET charge is needed.

2005: OK fine, 0.5% tax will do it – we’ll get $450 Million from the FTA.

2006: Rats! The Alternatives Analysis had to spoil it. Rail will cost $4.6 Billion.

2006: Rats! Cliff Slater noticed that the 2000 Bus Rapid Transit also planned by Parsons Brinkerhoff for the Harris administration had higher projected ridership than rail. So... with rail we pay 3 times more to get less.

2006: City will have Feds give it as much as Los Angeles and New York City: $750 Million.

2007: This state is run as a banana republic. As such, it starts collecting people's taxes to build a system that has no environmental approvals.

2007: Smoke and mirror events begin in earnest paid by taxpayers. Neither Leeward Community College nor UH-Manoa get any stations.

2008: Hannemann gives a helicopter ride to Oberstar who then says that Feds will give $900 Million. Hannemann declares that “the train has left the station.”

2008: Senator Inouye says that if we lose the EPA lawsuit for sewage treatment the $1.2 Billion bill “will break the back of the city.”

2008: Council support is shaky. Back room deal-making results in a route via Salt Lake.

2008: DEIS comes just two (2) days before the General Election and referendum or rail promising a ridership of 97,000 in the opening year! (No modern light rail in the US, even in cities 5 times bigger than Honolulu, carries more than 38,000.)

There is no time to review the DEIS but Inouye advises that people only need to read the summary. Fed share is now claimed to be $1.2 Billion.

2008: Public is deluged with city, union and Hannemann campaign “Light Rail” commercials, emails and letters, and a 50.6% “victory” is obtained.

2008: More political maneuvering and the route goes back via the airport. Warnings that it violates Federal Aviation Administration rules are ignored.

2009: Construction will start at the end of the year. (Isn’t it still 2009?)

2009: Rail is insolvent – Inouye joins the rail party. Feds are now claimed to pay $1.55 Billion.

2009: We lost the EPA lawsuit and appeal. We are now $1.2 Billion in the hole. But ignorance is bliss.

2009: Desperate for good news. Hannemann: “Rail creates 10,000 jobs!”

2009: UH Economic Research Unit: Rail might create up to 2,000 jobs in its peak year. (Given that all rail technology and materials need to be imported, I estimate that Local Jobs will be no more than 1,000 per year.)

2009: In November Hannemann declares that he is willing to wait a month or two to iron out some details; 6 months later his iron is not working.

2010: City steals $300 Million from future TheBus capital investment to balance TheRail budget.

2010: Four years after the Alternatives Analysis and three years after the start of tax collection this proposal has no environmental clearance, no cultural resources clearance and no robust budget.

2010 (May): FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff makes a strong anti-rail, pro-Bus Rapid Transit speech before the Boston Federal Reserve.

  • "... last year we conducted a study at the request of a number of legislators that asked us to look specifically at conditions of our largest rail operators. That report takes on particular significance in our department since one of the legislators that requested that report was the then-Junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. The report revealed a backlog of deferred maintenance at our seven largest rail operators of no less than $50 billion dollars."
  • "...the majority of transit trips taken in America are still done by bus. In fact, Americans take 21% more bus trips than rail trips. But when it comes to replacement, the costs associated with replacing rail eats up three quarters of the $78 Billion backlog."
2010: The cost is up to $5.4 Billion not counting the expensive Airport Runway avoidance. Hannemann really needs to get off this train.

2010: Hannemann did get off the train and run for governor, and lost in the primary. At the same time the author came third in the race for mayor to replace Hannemann. City prosecutor Peter Carlisle won the 3-way race with 39% of the vote. He immediately went to meet with the FTA to declare his commitment to the rail project.

2010: Outgoing Governor Linda Lingle releases an independent financial analysis of the project by IMG. It concludes that (1) construction cost will likely be $1.7 Billion more than the city's advocacy estimate of $5.4 Billion; and (2) based on a 30 year outlook, the total annual project cost will be $310 million per year (best case) and nearly $500 million per year (worst case.) For comparison, the FY 2005 entire CIP budget for Honolulu was $300 million*.

2010: Carlisle is "not worried" about the report and he dismisses it. However, the pro-rail Star Advertiser urges caution for the first time since 2004: "
The release last week of a financial analysis commissioned by Linda Lingle during the waning months of her administration added another fear factor to the already scary $5.5 billion price tag for the 20-mile elevated rail project."

(*) Note I use FY 2005 because that was a clean and normal year for Honolulu with no special assessment for sewers and budgeting for rail.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fidell Urges Traffic Relief

Jay Fidell's blog post "the traffic honeymoon doesn't last forever" calls for the new mayor to address traffic congestion.

Fidell suggests that we need modern solutions - timed lights, sensored intersections, overpasses, underpasses, HOT lanes. We’re desperate for these things. The technology is there, but we ignored it during the Hannemann years. Surely, we learned something and have higher expectations now.

Unfortunately, as Fidell knows, the new mayor is focused on the rail and its $310 million per year bill for 30 years. That's if the project is ever started and if everything goes perfectly well for it. At the same time he is facing a $100 million budget shortfall and a ~$5 billion sewer consent decree with the EPA.

The new mayor gloats on TV that "he is not worried" while surrounded by the perfect storm. Asking him for synchronized traffic lights is simply too much.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The report is out. People get it!

Poll results have been steady for about 10 hours straight so the bias by rail proponents or opponents, if any, is small. People get it!

Scource: survey on December 6-7, 2010.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Two Financial Risk Analysis Clearly Show Honolulu Rail Project is Unaffordable

First was the 2009 Jacob's risk analysis report commissioned by the FTA. It said this:

At the present stage of pre-Preliminary Engineering, one can be 90% confident that the proposed project will cost between 5.2 and 10.2 billion dollars (Figure 1-1, page 1-10 of Jacobs report.) Once PE is done and the project enters Final Design, then its price tag is expected to narrow: The project will have a 90% chance of being built for a budget ranging between 4.8 and 8.1 billion dollars.

Read more here:

In December 2010 Gov. Linda Lingle released state-funded study on the costs of rail. The Star Advertiser summarized it as follows:

The proposed 20-mile rail transit system is likely to cost the city an additional $1.7 billion over the next 20 years, raising the total price tag to at least $7 billion, according to a state review of the project's finances. And there is "substantial risk" that the $1.7 billion additional cost could grow to $4.5 billion.

Read more here:

My take quoted in the Star Advertiser is this:

Prevedouros said the analysis was consistent with the 2009 Federal Transit Authority report prepared by the Dallas consulting firm Jacobs Engineering Group, which placed the estimated cost of Oahu's 20-mile system at $5.29 billion but also indicated that there was a chance that the cost could reach or exceed $8.1 billion.

"(Jacobs) did not have a stake in the game. They were just reporting a number," Prevedouros said. "They're experts in getting it right, and they said there was a high chance of overruns. I would trust them more than I would trust advocates of the project."

Prevedouros said the results of the latest analysis should give lawmakers pause as they consider whether and how rail should proceed. "It's a different Congress. This will give them pause. It's a perilous path heading forward."

Read more here:

It is important to mention the impeccable reputation and expert subject knowledge of the primary authors of the report prepared by Infrastructure Management Group, Inc. Steve Steckler is Harvard University planner and chairman of IMG with past service in the U.S. DOT. Thomas Rubin is a mass transit consultant who's served as Controller-Treasurer of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, now known as Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Little Traffic Sign That Could ... Cause Three Freeway Accidents per Month!

This innocent looking NO RIGHT TURN ON RED sign installed by the City at the corner of University Avenue with Dole Street is actually the root cause of several rear-end accidents on the Kokohead or East-bound H-1 Freeway. Typically the accident happens between the University Avenue exit the Bingham Street exit.
This prohibitive sign in combination with two freeway off-ramps that carry a high volume of traffic from both sides of the freeway generate dangerous lines of cars on both sides of the freeway.

On the Ewa or West-bound side of the freeway, traffic to town is very slow because this is the peak direction. As such, the backlog of vehicles that go to University and Manoa is not particularly risky.

On the Kokohead or East-bound side, however, the freeway operates under extremely dangerous conditions. Two lanes, middle and left, flow at 50 to 60 miles per hour while the right lane crawls at less than 5 mph.

Here is the evidence of three crashes in less than 20 days!

Oct. 12, 2010 Rear end accident photographed at 8:52 AM

Oct. 20, 2010 Rear end accident photographed at 8:55 AM

Nov.4, 2010 Rear end accident photographed at 9:55 AM

These three accidents caused extensive congestion between the Pali Highway and University Avenue. The photo below shows bumper-to-bumper traffic as seen from the Wilder Avenue pedestrian overpass. The school bus in bottom left is moving over to the middle lane to avoid the blocked right lane and shoulder.

The City should take a lesson from itself from a similar twin right turn with a heavy flow of pedestrians at the corner of Ala Wai Boulevard and McCully Street where the sign reads NO RIGHT TURN ON RED Except from Right Lane After STOP. This more permissive management of traffic flow is required at the University Avenue twin right turn immediately to reduce the frequency of queues spilling onto the freeway and causing rear-end accidents.

This location has a clear and well delineated paths for pedestrians and vehicles and no obstructions. Issues relating to pedestrian safety with a permissive right turn on red are minimal. All other intersection corners around the UH-Manoa allow for right turn on red with no ill-effects to pedestrian safety.

Incidentally as far back as Monday, May 12, 1997 in the Honolulu Advertiser, page A-13, I complained about the city's uncoordinated traffic lights and referred specifically to the University/Dole intersection having substandard signalization.

Overall, the University Avenue freeway interchange needs an overhaul. Some alternatives were proposed in the past (Monday, January 31, 2000 Star Bulletin, “Engineer has ideas for improving H-1 flow”.) A final design and implementation are necessary to reduce the accidents at this high risk location which includes the only two ramps in our entire freeway system that are managed by YIELD signs!

Click for additional coverage of this issue by Hawaii News Now's Tim Sakahara.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Update on Honolulu Rail Programmatic Agreement

Courtesy of KHON's Andrew Pereira who reveals that five (5) agencies need to approve the PA in addition to the Governor's signature before the FTA can issue the Record on Decision.

The signatories to the programmatic agreement include the U.S. Navy, the Federal Transit Administration, the State Historic Preservation Officer and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

David Kimo Frankel of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation insists the city is putting the cart before the horse. He says under state law an archaeological inventory survey, which maps out where native Hawaii burial sites are likely to be encountered along the rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana, must be conducted before the programmatic agreement can be signed by the required parties.

Link to the full article RAIL FACES TALL HURDLE

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christie Gets Off the Train -- Carlisle Gets In the Train

The letter below was printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A16 on October 28, 2010.

"I cannot place upon the citizens of the State of New Jersey an open-ended letter of credit," said Garden State Governor Chris Christie yesterday.

Mr. Christie was affirming his decision to cancel a bloated project to build a new railroad tunnel under the Hudson River to New York City. He also affirmed that a government that already taxes its citizens more heavily than any other state in the country and has still racked up more than $100 billion in unfunded liabilities must finally recognize its limits.

The proposed tunnel was a joint project of the state of New Jersey, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, with each contributing roughly equal amounts. The catch was that Jersey would pay for any cost overruns.

What are the chances that this project would have been completed on budget? Consider the history. Expected to cost less than $5 billion during initial planning, the price tag jumped to $7.6 billion amid environmental impact studies in 2005. By the fall of 2008, $8.7 billion was the working assumption—until last summer when the feds forecast at least $10.9 billion, and possibly as much as $13.7 billion. After Mr. Christie made it clear last month that he wanted to avoid the fiscal train wreck looming under the Hudson, the feds reduced their estimated costs to a range of $9.8 billion to $12.7 billion.

In any case, Garden State taxpayers would still have been on the hook as soon as the meter ran above $9.8 billion, which even the feds acknowledge was a 90% certainty. It's hard to blame Mr. Christie for sparing taxpayers from such a fate.

What does the state of New Jersey finances and Gov. Christie's action mean for us on Oahu?

If taxes are thoroughly accounted for, then Hawaii is comparable in taxing its citizens with New Jersey.

The rail tunnel was planned to cost under $5 Billion and right before going into construction it would likely cost $9 Billion to $12 Billion.

On Oahu's banana republic the rail is planned to cost close to $6 Billion and Carlisle is going for it. Previous mayors argued that it will cost less that $5 Billion when FTA Jacob's report said that there is a 5% probability that Honolulu rail will cost over $8 Billion.

A Star Advertiser analysis by Sean Hao showed that infrastructure repairs alone in Hawaii top $32 Billion and the whole in the state's employee retirement system that we must fill locally is over $8 Billion for a rough total in liabilities of $40 Billion.

Note that the letter above says that Governor Christie canceled the rail project because of New Jersey's $100 Billion in other liabilities. New Jersey is 8.5 million people. So our $40 Billion liability in Hawaii compared to New Jersey is proportionally 2.8 times larger!

Carlisle is oblivious of the fiscal hole we are in. Carlisle also has not realized that the politics and costs of rail have retired its proponents. One thing Carlisle has going for him is 6 to 12 months of opportunity to get off the train.


Monday, October 25, 2010

National Performance Metrics Comparison of Honolulu’s Elevated Rail and HOT Lane Proposals. Final Score!

Time to add up the scores for Rail and HOT Lanes based on the three NTPP goals and their six metrics that were detailed in the three blog posts below.

While this may sound like a straight forward addition, it is not.
The NTPP report does not say that the three goals are equal.

For simplicity, one may assume that the goals of (1) Economic Growth, (2) Energy and Environment, and (3) Safety are equal, so each one has a weight of 33.3%.

Another person may argue that safety is paramount and the other two goals are lesser in importance, so for example Safety has a weight of 50% and the other two have a weight of 25% each.

We can come up with a variety of weighted importance percentages, but to conclude this
exercise of transportation alternatives pre-planning let’s summarize the scores using these two summation schemes mentioned above.

The table above clearly shows that based on the 2009 National Transportation Performance Criteria for economic growth, energy, environment and safety, HOT Lanes is a far superior alternative to Elevated Rail.

If we use equal weights of 33.3% for each goal, then HOT Lanes scores 60 points and Elevated Rail scores 27 points. If Safety is worth 50% and the other two goals are worth 25% each, then in total HOT Lanes scores 60 points and Elevated Rail scores 32 points.

Honolulu made the wrong choice in the 2006 Alternatives Analysis when Elevated Rail was chosen as the Locally Preferred Alternative. This evaluation using 2009 NTPP goals shows how big a mistake was made: 20 miles of Elevated Rail will barely be half as good as 10 miles of HOT Lanes.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

National Performance Metrics Comparison of Honolulu’s Elevated Rail and HOT Lane Proposals. Goal 3 of 3: Safety

Let’s briefly analyze how 20 miles of rail with 21 stations and 10 miles of HOT lanes would score in an application in Honolulu based on three goals and six NTPP metrics that were presented in a previous blog.

In order to reach a bottom line, the best alternative for each goal will receive a score of 10 and the second best will receive a relative score between 0 and 10.

Note that these metrics address deeper goals and treat congestion as an outcome. For congestion relief alone HOT lanes would score a 10 and rail a 1.

In this last part we focus on NTPP goal 3 which is Safety. This goal has two metrics, fatalities and injuries per capita and per vehicle miles traveled or VMT. Brief descriptions of the compared RAIL and HOT Lanes alternatives are provided here.

Fatalities and Injuries per Capita

RAIL: Rail systems are commonly assumed to be very safe compared to “dangerous roads.” Far from it. When suicides, rapes, drugs, pick-pocketing and other crime in stations and elevator, escalator, walking, falls inside a moving train and other accidents are comprehensively accounted for, and weighted by the relatively small numbers of people rail serves compared to roads, then urban rail systems are less safe than managed roads. Note that high voltage third rail systems like the one planned for Honolulu are notorious for suicides, the statistics of which are always kept secret to discourage these events. (Score = 7)

HOT Lanes: The Attica Tollway in Athens received the International Road Federal award for safety in 2009 and the 10 miles of reversible elevated lanes (REL) of Tampa are practically accident free. In addition, automated lane keeping, intelligent cruise control and other safety technologies already built-into the luxury car market are increasingly being offered in mid-priced cars. Again, managed HOT lanes are perfect for taking advantage of advanced safety systems and future improvements. Unlike trains that are always in close contact with people, HOT lane traffic is never in close contact with pedestrians. (Score = 10)

Fatalities and Injuries per Vehicle Miles Traveled

RAIL: Honolulu rail is projected to move such a tiny proportion of Oahu’s trips (less than 3% of the daily trips) so its effect on improving safety will be tiny. (Score = 8)

HOT Lanes: While the lanes themselves will not carry more than 5% of Oahu’s daily trips, they will provide a substantial congestion relief to parallel roads including the H-1 Freeway thereby reducing rear-end accidents which are typical in congested conditions. A portion of motorists and bus and vanpool passengers will be able to travel on a perfectly safe 10 mile segment of roadway. (Score = 10)


Based on the Safety goal and its two metrics, HOT Lanes score 20 points and Elevated Rail scores 15 points.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

National Performance Metrics Comparison of Honolulu’s Elevated Rail and HOT Lane Proposals. Goal 2 of 3: Energy and Environment

Let’s briefly analyze how 20 miles of rail with 21 stations and 10 miles of HOT lanes would score in an application in Honolulu based on three goals and six NTPP metrics that were presented in a previous blog.

In order to reach a bottom line, the best alternative for each goal will receive a score of 10 and the second best will receive a relative score between 0 and 10.
Note that these metrics address deeper goals and treat congestion as an outcome. For congestion relief alone HOT lanes would score a 10 and rail a 1.

In this part we focus on NTPP goal 2 which is Energy and Environment. This goal has two metrics, petroleum consumption and CO2 emissions. Brief descriptions of the compared RAIL and HOT Lanes alternatives are provided here.

Petroleum Consumption

RAIL: While nationally rail may be powered by a mix of coal, hydroelectric and nuclear power, on Oahu over 95% of electric power is generated by burning oil and coal. Unfortunately during off-peak hours trains tend to run nearly empty. They draw a lot of oil-based electricity power for very little transportation work. Also the rail will only reduce car trips by 1.1%, so oil dependence for cars will not be diminished. Worse yet, congestion with rail will be terrible during construction and after it opens. Overall petroleum consumption and dependence will be high with rail. Score = 3.

HOT Lanes: Have the advantage that from day 1 they can serve hybrid buses, hybrid cars and electric cars. Lanes on the HOT lanes can also provide under-the-roadway induction conduits so electric buses can run on them. Electric buses will draw oil and coal based
electricity. However, electric cars and plug-in hybrids can easily be charged at home or work by solar panels and mini-wind mills as shown in this couple of installations near the UH-Manoa.

These devices provide an opportunity for distributed renewable energy which is heavily incentivized today: $7,500 federal tax credit and $4,500 Hawaii tax credit for an electric car; 30% federal tax credit and 35% Hawaii tax credit for solar panels; $2,000 federal and state credit for a car charger at home (actual cost to user ~$200.) The U.S. and Hawaii energy policy favors electric car purchases not usage of fixed rail. Construction of 10 miles of HOT lanes is only one third as disruptive as rail and after they open congestion will improve by over 25%. Score = 10.

CO2 Emissions

RAIL: Unlike the mainland where hydro and nuclear power accounts for almost 30% of electricity generation (and oil accounts for barely over 1.1%),
Oahu’s electricity is almost entirely based on oil and coal so the CO2 emissions of rail on Oahu will be terrible because they are proportional to oil dependence. Severe congestion during rail’s construction and its minimal benefit afterward result in a highly polluting final outcome. Oil and coal account for over 95% of electric power generation on Oahu. Strong incentives for solar power roof-top deployments affect individual users and do not lessen the rail’s dependence on oil-based electricity. Score = 2.

HOT Lanes: The future lies in electric automobility as the incentives above clearly demonstrate. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) demonstrated that wind turbine energy is best at night, but that is a time that society needs electricity the least… except for thousands of electric cars charging from the grid with wind energy. ORNL has identified this as a perfect synergy. HOT Lanes are perfectly positioned to serve electric cars, vans and buses and dramatically reduce CO2 emissions. HOT lanes dramatically reduce CO2 pollution from day 1 by reducing corridor congestion by 25% or more. Score = 10.


Based on the Energy and Environment goal and its two metrics, HOT Lanes score 20 points and Elevated Rail scores 5 points.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

National Performance Metrics Comparison of Honolulu’s Elevated Rail and HOT Lane Proposals. Goal 1 of 3: Economic Growth

Let’s briefly analyze how 20 miles of rail with 21 stations and 10 miles of HOT lanes would score in an application in Honolulu based on three goals and six NTPP metrics that were presented in a previous blog.

In order to reach a bottom line, the best alternative for each goal will receive a score of 10 and the second best will receive a relative score between 0 and 10.

Note that these metrics address deeper goals and treat congestion as an outcome. For congestion relief alone HOT lanes would score a 10 and rail a 1.

In this part we focus on NTPP goal 1 which is Economic Growth. This goal has four metrics but two of them relate to long-distance commerce and travel; they apply to Hawaii when maritime or air transportation is considered.

Brief System Descriptions

RAIL: Fully elevated heavy rail starting about a mile east of Kapolei in the middle of prime agricultural land (presently Aloun and other farms) and ending inside Ala Moana Center with 21 stations and three or four park and ride facilities accommodating fewer than 5,000 cars. Headways are 3 minutes in peak periods, 6 minutes off peak. Trains have a capacity of 300 people of which two thirds are standees. Double track design with no express trains. The system will recover 0% of the capital costs and only 10%-20% of its O&M costs from fares. Capital cost estimated at $5.4 Billion and annual O&M cost at $70 Million/year.

HOT Lanes: 10 miles of elevated 3-lane reversible expressway designed for High Occupancy and Toll operation where buses and large carpools enter free. Low and solo occupancy vehicles pay a graduated toll (e.g., from $0.50 to $5.00). The toll is “congestion insurance.” Paying the toll guarantees 50 mph travel at all times. Higher tolls are necessary to discourage overloading. The facility has Aloha Stadium as its anchor (mid-point) and has exits at Pearl Harbor, Lagoon Drive and Waiakamilo. It starts at the H-1/H-2 merge and ends in Iwilei. The 2.2 miles from Keehi Interchange to Iwilei is a shovel ready project (signed EIS) as “The Nimitz Viaduct.) The system will recover at least one third of its capital costs and 100% of its O&M costs from tolls. Capital cost estimated at $1.7 Billion and annual O&M cost at $20 Million/year.

Access to Jobs and Labor (metropolitan accessibility)

RAIL: National research has shown that rail’s limited reach does not help the jobless to find jobs and is not helpful for those with multiple jobs; and we have many of the latter on Oahu. Rail is a mode for white collar commuters; this is a relatively small market in Hawaii’s service oriented and dispersed industry. Many workers drop off or pick up children from school before work; rail is no good for them. Combinations of rail and bus and walk for door-to-door travel result in uncompetitive travel times compared to direct bus, carpool or car modes. Rail’s original score of 4 is further reduced by 2 points because rail is incapable of providing transportations for goods and services which are vital for the economy and part of this criterion. Score = 4-2 = 2.

HOT Lanes: Nationally HOT lanes is the solution for rapid transportation and the best way to make express buses competitive with the auto and succeed in getting people “out of their cars.” An express bus from Waikele or Waipio on the HOT lanes would reach downtown in under 20 minutes in the middle of rush hour. These express buses can continue to major destinations in Kalihi, Kakaako, Waikiki, and UH. Also Oahu has among the nation’s highest carpool and vanpool rates. HOT lanes are designed to serve these high occupancy modes. HOT lanes provide fast travel for the provision of services (e.g., an electrician can get from Kapolei to Kalihi in under 30 minutes at 7 AM) and offer congestion relief to parallel routes (e.g., H-1 Freeway) which is used heavily for transporting goods. Score = 10.

Access to Non-work Activities (metropolitan accessibility)

RAIL: A very small portion of the population should be expected to use rail for non-work activities such as groceries, shopping, social visits, school events, soccer practice, night clubbing, out on a date, etc. Rail loses 1 point for being unable to be of any use during an emergency such as freeway closure, flooding, hurricane and tsunami. Score = 6-1 = 5.

HOT Lanes: The Honolulu design is for a reversible configuration which is tailored to serve commuting flows so it only partially improves access to the variety of non-work activities that people engage in. It is tailored however to work well for large events at Aloha Stadium by working in-bound to the stadium before the event starts and out-bound at event’s end for quick evacuation. The HOT lanes can also serve as a reliable emergency-only backbone during an emergency. Score = 10.


Based on the Economic Growth goal and its two metrics, HOT Lanes score 20 points and Elevated Rail scores 7 points.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NTPP Transportation Performance Metrics

The National Transportation Policy Project sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center produced Performance Driven: New Vision for U.S. Transportation Policy

“This report presents the findings of an intensive, two year effort to develop multi-stakeholder consensus recommendations for a forward-looking American transportation policy. This report is the product of a bipartisan group of 26 members of diverse expertise and affiliations, addressing many complex and contentious topics.”

The report states that “Without clearly articulated goals, it is not surprising that there has been little accountability for the performance of most federal transportation programs and projects to date. The result has been an emphasis on revenue sharing and process, rather than on results. There is no federal requirement to optimize “returns” on public investments, and current programs are not structured to reward positive outcomes, or even to document them.”

As an actionable item the Project developed specific performance metrics. “The performance metrics, must be fair, transparent, and free of bias toward particular transportation modes or geographic regions. The list below summarizes the performance metrics NTPP recommends for measuring performance.”

Economic Growth
(1) Access to jobs and labor (metropolitan accessibility)
(2) Access to non-work activities (metropolitan accessibility)

Energy and Environment
(1) Petroleum consumption
(2) CO2 emissions

(1) Fatalities and injuries per capita
(2) Fatalities and injuries per Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT)

The report provides a lot of details and concludes that “Fundamental reform is needed. The alternative is to allow America’s transportation systems to continue to fall short of meeting the multi-faceted demands increasingly being placed on them—with collective costs to the economy, our quality of life, and the environment that can only grow over time.”

NEXT BLOG: Performance Metrics Comparison of Honolulu’s Heavy Rail and HOT Lane Proposals.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Triumph of Pork over Purpose [Needs to Be Reversed]

The article with the "spot on" title Pork over Purpose was published on a most unfortunate date (the day before 9/11/2001) in a most unlikely publication, The Blueprint of the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC provides perspective and advice to elected Democrats.

The Triumph of Pork over Purpose was written by David Luberoff of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Notable highlights of the article include the following.

There is no national purpose driving federal highway and transit funding programs. Instead, a variety of special interests -- from contractors and unions to environmentalists and urbanists -- have come to view the national highway and transit program as an opportunity. [Interestingly most environmentalists and urbanists are strongly against the proposed elevated rail for Honolulu, so the project is politician and union driven.]

Earmarked funding for an increasing number of projects: There were only a handful of earmarks in the 1982 act reauthorizing highway and transit laws, but the 1987 measure contained funding for about 150 specific projects --one of the rationales President Reagan cited in his unsuccessful veto of that law. In contrast, no one blinked an eye when ISTEA earmarked money for more than 500 highway and transit projects or when TEA-21 included more than 1,800 earmarks. [Earmarks is one manifestation of pork over purpose. But there are several other ways to promote pork. For example one can declare carbon emissions an enemy and start throwing money at anything that promises carbon emissions reductions. Then "green" causes a lot of real red. The huge deficits of Spain and California prove this.]

The prospect of significant federal funding drives states and localities to build projects that they never would undertake if they had to fund even a significant portion of the costs themselves. For example, the funding strategy for virtually every major rail transit project built in the last three decades -- from Los Angeles' Red Line to Seattle's current troubled project -- has been predicated on securing significant federal funding for those projects because local officials knew that local voters would never have approved local taxes needed to fully fund those projects. [It's worth repeating that 80% to 90% of the funding for H-1, H-2 and H-3 freeways came from FHWA, but only about 25% of the funding for rail may come from the FTA.]

The pressure for special projects and programs creates a process that is politically compelling but one that also is far from economically efficient. And that means that we're not spending the money we have in ways likely to produce significant positive payoffs by either making the economy more efficient or improving the quality of many people's lives. [This is another spot on statement: Infrastructure is paid by taxes. If the wrong infrastructure is built, then taxes are simply wasted.]

The four highlights above --that are worth about 30 Billion Dollars in Hawaii and over One Trillion Dollars in the U.S. as a whole-- explain why I am motivated to seek high elected office with power over infrastructure decisions.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Congestion, Rail, APEC and Hurricane Preparedness: Problems and Solutions

Severe Traffic Congestion Wastes Time and Fuel; Cripples Economy and Tourism
Fix traffic lights, install six underpasses, PPP reversible expressway and express buses, Ewa Beach ferry; intelligent traffic management systems. Read the summary of University of Hawaii Congestion Study for details.

Elevated Heavy Rail Costs Too Much, Does Too Little and Will Be a 20 Year Construction, Eminent Domain and Lawsuit Nightmare for Iwi, Environmental Law Abuses, Agriculture Extinction and Hawaiian Lands Invasion
There is no construction for rail. It is not a legal system to build now; maybe in 2012. Stop the paperwork and the money bleeding now, and move on to real solutions with far smaller cultural, environmental and economic impacts. Assess light transit options such as the Oahu Rail Line that has an over 90% preserved right of way between Waianae and airport.

The 2011 meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) will be held in Honolulu -- heads of state, Cabinet ministers, business leaders and other officials will attend summit, Nov. 12-20, 2011, at the Hawaii Convention Center. As many as 10,000 people may attend. Event management is critical.

Management by experts with past experience with large special events is necessary. For example I organized two conferences and helped with the 2004 Olympics, as follows:
  • 1st ISFO, Athens, Greece, June 4-7, 2006
  • 2nd ISFO, Honolulu, Hawaii, June 21-24, 2009
  • Halkias, B., Prevedouros, P., et al. Attica Tollway Management in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. 12th World Congress on Intelligent Transportation Systems, San Francisco, CA, November 2005.

Emergency Resiliency is Non Existent
It is clear that there is no action plan for clearing roads, restoring electricity and providing medical and other vital services to Oahu neighborhoods after a hurricane hits. There is no preparation for it. For starters:
  • Core streets need regular tree trimming and proper handling of poles and utilities.
  • Placement of trucks, front loaders, ambulances and power units at key locations is essential.
  • Emergency docks and “plugs” for Navy Submarines.
  • Public second access for Waianae (tunnel to Kunia.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Parks, Homeless, Water Mains, Sewers and Trash: Problems and Solutions

Park Maintenance and Beautification
Partial privatization and Adopt-a-Park corporate and club programs. Private Moanalua Gardens is in top shape. Fully restore the War Memorial Natatorium. Keep Hanauma Bay in top shape -- both visitor side and nature.

Homeless in Parks and Beaches; Kuhio Park Terrace All Full with Micronesians
Shrink the $30,000 Hawaii Homeless Benefit Package. Repatriate mainland homeless. Receive much more support and accommodations for the Federal PACT with Micronesia. Remove mentally ill homeless from streets, parks and beaches and provide them with proper care. Use decommissioned TheBus for overnight sheltering. No sleeping on public parks, etc.

364 Water Main Breaks per Year
High priority replacement of old mains, especially those in corrosive low lying areas. Our fixing rate needs to accelerate.

Sewers Consent Decree with EPA Will Cost Over $7 Billion If Done by the City
A Public Private Partnership (PPP) for reconstruction, maintenance and operation to infuse private capital, to share risk and to operate sewers like a utility. With PPP, construction costs decrease, quality and timeliness improve. Better management. Bottom line: lower monthly bills and better infrastructure.

Oahu’s Recycling Is a Glorified Sorting and Exportation of Trash. Yard Waste Recycling Is Basically Mulching and Dumping. 20% of Trash Burnt is Flyash.
Re-use tires and glass into pavements. Convert flyash into pozolanic cement. Remanufacture plastics into benches, bump stops and other simple and useful parts. Incentivize a private biomass plant to generate electricity out of the voluminous routine green waste collection by the city.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tampa Expressway Spurs Tons of Development

Let me first quickly remind the reader about our Kapiolani Boulevard re-development lesson which I first posted in 2008, and then we will go to the pictorial tour of the 10 mile, $320 Million, 60% elevated on single posts Tampa Expressway.

Does Rail Stimulate Long Term Redevelopment? We do not need rail for development and opportunities to flourish. We need a robust economy, a well-paid populous, low taxes, good quality products and services (tourism, education, local products, etc.), steady and smart leadership, and reliable infrastructure and government operations. Rail is simply a scheme to rob a million people (through taxes) in order to benefit a few hundred insiders and a few thousand workers, most of them temporary.

On to Tampa now... Dr. Martin Stone, Planning Director for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority estimates that about $1 billion in new development at its urban end has occurred since the opening of the Tampa Expressway.

Unlike regular Transit Oriented Development (TOD) which are highly subsidized, no tax incentives were needed for these developments.

2052 Streetscape showing the Grand Central (residential, parking, multiple floors of office and commercial on first floor) development, the Slade (residential and commercial on first floor) development and the Towers of Channelside (residential, parking and commercial on first floor at the far end of photo)

2053 Grand Central and Ventana (3 separate buildings - Madison Street view)

2054 Grand Central and Ventana (3 separate buildings - Kennedy Blvd view)

2055 The Slade on Meridian

2057 The Slade with Grand Central in background

2060 Towers with retail on first floor and Cruise ship parking garage in background

2061 New History Museum (on left) with Towers on right

2062 New History Museum