Monday, January 18, 2010

State of the Rail? Stuck!

The panel presentations of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects hosted by Hawaii governor Linda Lingle on January 18, 2010 revealed many of the weaknesses of the city's proposed rail plan. Here is a sample:

  1. The city is stuck with its environmental compliance and cannot issue a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS.)
  2. The city's EIS is too deficient to withstand scrutiny at courts.
  3. The city's EIS failed to study a true light rail system. (Note that the voters in 2008 were told that the city was proposing a light rail system.)
  4. Even if the governor wanted to sign an environmental approval, there is no document for her to sign.
  5. There is no federal environmental approval.
  6. There is no federal approval of any funding in any amount.

The governor's panel was a good example of open process as apposed to Mufi Hannemann's lectures and the Parsons Brinkerhoff's smoke and mirrors shows.

There were several references to the Alternatives Analysis, so I spent a little time reviewing this November 2006 document for which two past Hawaii Department of Transportation directors voted in approval (Hirata and Hayashida).

On page 5-2 the Alternatives Analysis says that the East Kapolei to Ala Moana cost would be 3.6 billion dollars, and the full project from West Kapolei to UH and Waikiki would be 5.5 billion dollars. In late 2009 Mufi Hannemann gloated that construction costs have dropped and that Honolulu will get a bargain for building the proposed rail. Really? Why is today's cost for the East Kapolei to Ala Moana system 5.3 billion or 47% higher than the cost estimated in 2006?

Table 5-9 of the Alternatives Analysis projected that in 2009 249 million dollars would have been spent for rail construction. Yet no construction has taken place and this has nothing to do with rail lawsuits or state administration approvals. Simply the city promises big and delivers small.

The governor is correct is pointing out that 2010 is not 2006. Money is a huge issue now at all levels. (It is not an exaggeration to say that now the U.S. builds projects by borrowing money from Asia.)

The proposed rail that is on the table now is dangerously unaffordable and it will undermine the overall ability of the state to deliver other vital projects. This is clearly shown by a desperation act of the city in the latest version of the rail budget. In order to balance the proposed rail budget, it stole $330 million from TheBus budget. This is before any real construction cost overruns have taken place.

Honolulu must not forget San Juan's experience where costs projected by the same consultant actually doubled.

AIA-Hawaii panelists insisted that for this transit project to succeed it must serve the UH-Manoa campus and Waikiki. In this case, the cost of the project is about 8 billion dollars, and, if San Juan experience is repeated, the actual cost could be 16 billion dollars. At this rate, no other project can be built in Hawaii for 20 years. No sewers, no water lines, no roads, no new schools, airport buildings or harbor piers.

The elevated rail system proposal is economic suicide for current residents and their children.

Now some think that solving the congestion problem is worth this risk. Unfortunately nowhere has a rail line solved any traffic congestion problem. The city's numbers clearly show this. At the present time TheBus carries 7 out of 100 trips on Oahu. With TheBus and TheRail combined in 2030 this will explode to ... 8 out of 100 trips. Sorry, over 90% of the trips will be stuck in traffic!

Unfortunately the news is even worse for those who hope that TheRail will reduce road congestion. Both San Juan and Seattle recently opened rail lines and their ridership is only one third of the hoped for level. What does this mean for Honolulu? After paying well over five billion dollars, transit trips will increase from 7 percent to 7.3 percent. More taxes, no relief.