Friday, May 28, 2010

Saddle Road: From 15 to 55 miles per hour for $100 million

It is rare to see a major road project in Hawaii -- unless you are on Maui where the transportation committee chairs for both House and Senate come from.

The re-alignment and upgrade of the Saddle Road is a major project. For me this is a bittersweet experience. As a holder of a (now expired) car racing license, the challenge that was the Saddle Road in the 1990s is no more. The twists, turns and elevation changes made it a challenge even at 25 miles per hour! But having fun with a challenging drive is not an excuse for maintaining a road in a primitive condition.

When the project is completed, the benefit to the Big Island commuters between the Hilo and Kona sides will be grand. Major savings in travel time and in safety. Here's a March 2010 photo of the construction.

The comparison of Saddle Road on Big Island with Kaukonahua Road on Oahu is an interesting example of facts and choices. Kaukonahua Road near the North Shore of Oahu is a short, winding stretch of rural highway that is vital to the Wailua and Haleiwa communities.

This fun one mile of road (which is not scary or unsafe compared, for example, to the Road to Hana or Oahu's Tantalus Round Top Drive) manages to be the locus of about one dead motorist per year. So on one hand we have one mile of winding road that kills roughly 20 people every 20 years (see end note) and on the other hand we have over 22 miles of winding road that kills one or two persons every 20 years. And we choose to spend over $100 million to straighten the second one!

Other than that, the new Saddle Road is a phenomenal improvement in roadway alignment.

From this...

To this...

I could not get a complete picture of the phases and costs of the Saddle Road project. I found two milestones dated May 2007 and March 2009. Here is the respective information and the website for the project.

May 2007
-- The Federal Highway Administration-Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD), in cooperation with the Hawaii Department of Transportation and the Department of the Army awarded a $59 million contract to Goodfellow Brothers, Inc. of Waikoloa, Hawaii for construction of the first 16 miles of the new Saddle Road. The plans and specifications for the project were developed by Okahara & Associates, Inc. of Hilo, Hawaii.

March 2009
-- A $34.6 million construction contract to Goodfellow Brothers, Inc of Waikoloa, Hawaii for grading and paving of a new section of Saddle Road from mile marker 35 to 41.5. The contract was awarded on October 24, 2008; construction officially began on November 19 and is expected to be completed by late summer, 2009. Upon completion, 22-miles of the 48-mile long Saddle Road route will have been upgraded to modern standards and opened to public traffic.

Endnote: Recent Kaukonahua Road crashes
  • May 1, 2010 -- Crash on Kaukonahua Road kills one woman, injures another
  • Oct 12, 2009 -- Fatal motorcycle crash on Kaukonahua Road
  • Apr 12, 2009 -- Elderly Man Killed on Kaukonahua Road

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chronology of Mufi's Rail

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: The cost is up to $5.4 Billion not counting the expensive Airport Runway avoidance. Hannemann really needs to get off this train.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reason Foundation's Dr. Samuel Staley Agrees with UHCS Recommendations

We are pleased that our hard work for real solutions for Oahu's pervasive traffic congestion problems have been recognized in several international conferences, including a distinguished award by the Institute of Transportation Engineerns (Van Wagoner awards in 2006) and now by the Reason Foundation which said in part:

Practical solutions exist to reducing congestion, however, and they are detailed in an excellent study by University of Hawai'i traffic engineer Panos Prevedouros. In a report titled "Transportation Alternatives Analysis for Mitigating Traffic Congestion" released in June 2008, Dr. Prevedouros provides a detailed analysis of core infrastructure projects that would dramatically improve travel times and create free-flow travel across the city.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sustainability: Key Measures and Comparisons

Sustainability is important. But how do we measure it? How can we tell if an island is sustainable or not? There are no easy answers but there are some indicators, and the higher the ranking the better the sustainability level. Basically all islands are net importers, which means that they depend on external sources, so they are less sustainable compared with a self-sufficient continent.

Read the full article on page 6 of the Filipino Chronicle. For improved clarity, the printed table is included below in color.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Manoa Flooding: Lessons Not Learned

A major flood occurred on October 30, 2004 that caused several million dollars worth of damage to UH-Manoa (including the loss of some precious library resources), serious damage to some homes and vehicles, minor damage to Noelani Elementary School, and extensive stream and neighborhood cleanup efforts.

In 2006 the Army Corps of Engineers finished an analysis and issued a report.
Although debris was an issue causing additional clogging, the Corps investigation reveals a significant lack in stream capacity for a 10-year event. Yet nothing has happened to address the situation and debris has been accumulating.

Here is their main conclusion: "Results indicate that Manoa Stream, between Kahaloa Drive and Woodlawn Drive has insufficient capacity to contain the flood waters caused by the October 30, 2004 storm. Flood damage was increased by debris blockage of the East Manoa Road and
Woodlawn Drive bridges. Frequency analysis determined the October 30, 2004 flood event to be about a 4% chance or 25-year flood event.

"An analysis of bridge and channel capacities determined that Manoa Stream can safely carry about 4,500 to 5,000 cfs [cubic feet per second] within the banks, but the East Manoa Road and Woodlawn Drive Bridges can only safely pass flows in the range of 2,800 to 3,900 cfs without bridge blockages. [In other words, the bridges severely limit the capacity of the stream.] Flows in this range have a magnitude less than the 10% chance or 10-year flood."

Conclusion: Unless one of the alternatives proposed is constructed, a repeat flooding of lower Manoa and UH is quite likely.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Great Traffic Lights ... in Quincy, MA

This article in The Boston Globe is fantastic because it makes the operation of traffic lights understood. The technology and operational settings are complex. And the benefits can be tremendous, as the excerpt below indicates.

Not every community’s traffic lights operate as well as Quincy’s. Some communities lack the technology, even though the city’s is more than 20 years old. Others lack the personnel. But for those that prioritize traffic signal management, the benefits are numerous, Gillon said.

By platooning groups of cars, fewer vehicles get stopped at red lights, reducing idling emissions by as much as 20 percent, Gillon said. Extending green lights to allow 18-wheelers to pass through intersections — which Quincy does by use of surveillance cameras — likewise helps the environment.

Fewer cars stopped at intersections also can mean fewer rear-end accidents, as drivers’ attention tends to drift when sitting at red lights, Gillon said.

In the future, Gillon hopes to adjust his system to hold green lights for MBTA buses that are running behind schedule.

Best of all, with efficient traffic lights, everyone can get where they’re going faster.

“You’ve probably got 35,000 or 45,000 cars coming through here a day,’’ said Gillon, stopped at an intersection near the end of our journey. “If you’re saving even six seconds for all of them, that’s a lot, right?’’

Well, let's answer his question. Is it a lot?

About three million trips are made on a typical day on Oahu and we can extrapolate that there should be at least 60 million stoppages of vehicles in a day. Optimized traffic lights can reduce at least five (5) seconds for each stoppage, on the average.

These five seconds accumulate to 83,000 of vehicle hours of idling engines per day. This is like having 8,300 vehicles idle for 10 hours every day. So?

An average vehicle will consume about one third of a gallon per hour of idling, or one (1) gallon if it's a truck or bus. Let's stick to 0.33 gallons per hour of idle and 250 typical days a year. The rest of the year we assume no savings.

This comes out to nearly seven million gallons of saved fuel per year!

Further if you assume that the typical Oahu car is driven for 10,000 miles and has an average fuel consumption of 20 mpg, then it needs 500 gallons of fuel per year. Divide the 7,000,000 gallons of fuel saved by 500 and this 5 seconds of savings from traffic lights becomes equal to the permanent removal of 14,000 cars for one year.

That's more that any rail on Oahu will ever do. And you just thought that traffic lights were just three boring colors.

(A side point: On your regular commute you know the "long lights." You will save fuel and engine wear if you turn your engine off at those lights when you are caught at the beginning of a red signal. Hybrids do this regularly and get a big jump in their city MPG rating.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Honolulu's Mismanagement

Contrary to rhetoric that Honolulu is doing well under the current administration, the facts paint a different picture. Let’s look at just four examples.

First, Honolulu has the fifth highest debt per capita of America’s larger cities (See list below). Note that this debt does not include our inevitable shortfall in rail taxes, the $1.2 billion liability for secondary sewage treatment (the city lost both the suit and the appeal to EPA) or the funds needed for our roads which are some of the worst in the nation and will require billions for restoration (as opposed to the wasteful two inch overlays currently done in a hurry in order to “buy votes”).

Here’s Business Insider’s list of “America's Most Bankrupt Cities.” Honolulu is 5th worst in the nation.

1. Harrisburg PA Mayor Linda Thompson – per capita debt $1500
2. Detroit Mayor Dave Bing – per capita debt $780
3. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom – per capita debt $600
4. NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg – per capita debt $590
5. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann – per capita debt $370
6. Yonkers Mayor Phil Amicone – per capita debt $300
7. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake – per capita debt $190
8. Chicago Mayor Richard Daily – per capita debt $180
8. Reno Mayor Bob Cashell – per capita debt $180
8. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – per capita debt $180
11. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon – per capita debt $150
12. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman – per capita debt $140
13. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed – per capita debt $120
14. Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim – per capita debt $110
15. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders – per capita debt $20

Second is the mismanagement of the rail project. For starters, the City and its multimillion dollar consultants failed to design a system that provides the required distance from the airport runway. After public humiliation they hastily came up with a rerouting which involves much more expensive condemnation. (Note that the added cost of the rerouting has not been mentioned yet.) This will likely further delay the issuance of the EIS.

The rail appears to be the top priority of the Hannemann/Caldwell Administration and yet they have failed to meet their promises. Look at this September 2009 pompous article by Caldwell and the highlighted milestones for the rail project, none of which were met!

Third are the incessant exaggerations about the magical abilities of their rail.

(1) How can they claim job gains when they tax Oahu taxpayers over $3 billion for this "job creation"? The fact is that rail, if started, might create 1,000 local jobs and will likely eliminate 4,000 local jobs through excessive taxation. Each local rail job will cost approximately $2.6 million!

(2) How can federal funds for rail be of any benefit to Oahu when the purchase of rail materials and technology costs more than the federal funds that are expected? The fact is that the federal money will be spent on items from outside our State so none of the federal funds will ever create local jobs or benefit Oahu.

(3) Honolulu remains at the very bottom of cities in the nation for road quality and at the top for highest cost of car ownership. Congestion and high costs are degrading our quality of life and killing our economy. The Hannemann/Caldwell solution is a 19th century technology electric train, powered with oil and toxic garbage-burning electricity, which might carry 2% of the daily trips on Oahu.

(4) The City's own study says that today The Bus caries 5.6% of the trips made on Oahu. After rail is built, express buses are eliminated and most bus routes are chopped to a feeder status, the trips by bus and rail are projected increase to 6.6%. Where is the traffic relief?

(5) Voters favored rail in 2008 with a razor thin margin: 50.6% of the people checked YES to rail. True, but what did they favor? They favored light rail costing less than five billion and going through Salt Lake. The city is proposing an elevated heavy rail, costing more than five billion and going through the airport. How's that the same?

Note that Hannemann and Caldwell quote that rail was favored by 53% of the voters. Here is the official result:

Honolulu: Dept. of Transportation Services
Transit 212 of 212
YES 156,051 50.6%
NO 140,818 45.7%
Blank Votes: 11,456
Over Votes: 118 0.0%

It is both amusing and pathetic that the number of people who voted yes for rail in 2008 represent only 17% of Oahu’s population!

Fourth is the May 6, 2010 complaint by former Governor Cayetano that the City has grossly and repeatedly violated state procurement law and applied favoritism in contractor selection.

There is abundant evidence of mismanagement and lack of transparency and accountability.

In summary, the debts and obligations are mounting, yet Hannemann and Caldwell appear to be oblivious to reality and are engaged in legacy politicking, self preservation and servitude to the special interests that have bankrolled them.

Isn’t it time for honest, rational and fiscally responsible governance?