Monday, February 1, 2010

Rail Jobs? Apply Now for 12/12/12

Let's talk about the much touted "rail jobs."

Although public project construction jobs are only a small part of Oahu's economy, politicians and some union heads are literally shouting that we need the rail for the jobs that it provides to save Oahu from its economic slump.

First, much more than half of the planning and design work for the rail is done by outside professionals. Local engineers do not know how to do rail. Second, Kiewit Corporation of Omaha, Nebraska was selected to build the first segment (if and when construction can start legally.) Third, a lot of the technical work for rail requires expertise that our local laborers do not have. Fourth, a big part of the rail is the imported technology which will be shipped in and then assembled by outside experts. For these and other reasons the local jobs number will be much smaller than what politicians announce for popular consumption.

The next question is timing. Mufi and rail advocates are (again) shouting that jobs are needed now and rail should start now. Can rail construction start now? The answer is No. Here is why.

The Programmatic Agreement (PA) under Section 106 that addresses cultural and historical impacts has not been signed by all parties.

Regarding the PA process I heard this: "Faith Miyamoto representing the city has been picky as to which party to involve and has told affected parties that they are not participants in the PA." Actions like this endanger the conclusion of the PA process.

The Final EIS cannot be released before the PA concludes satisfactorily.

The judges of the federal court along Halekauwila Street do not want trains going by their building, yet no realignment has been proposed.

The Federal Aviation Administration is concerned that the transit corridor is too close to active runways that process millions of passengers every year. An alternative alignment would be required to satisfy their concerns but the city has not provided a realignment.

Let's now make a big assumption that concerns like the above, plus concerns about the budget are sorted out within months. Then these are the steps that city needs to complete:

1) Issue a Final EIS (with acceptable solutions to all major concerns)
2) Final review by the affected State Departments
3) Approval by the Governor
4) Review by the FTA and approval
5) FTA issuance of a Record on Decision
6) FTA issuance of a Letter of No Prejudice
7) FTA provides first installment of federal funds (Full Funding Grant Agreement)

The above process requires one full year to conclude (assuming that Governor Lingle will eventually approve the FEIS) and over two years to receive construction funds from the federal government. Of course a reckless mayor can start construction with no agreement with the FTA and realize later that FTA can deliver much less than what's in the budget.

The lesson here is that if you like rail, for the sake of your finances and of the generations to come, do not elect a mayor who does not promise that rail work will start after the full funding grant agreement has been signed by the feds. Hannemann wants to start with no federal funds.

Hannemann is wrong on at least four counts:
(1) He proposes rail as a traffic solution. Wrong.
(2) He proposes to build rail in a very expensive way. All-elevated heavy rail. Wrong.
(3) He plans to start rail in the middle of prime agricultural land. Wrong.
(4) He plans to start construction without federal funds. Wrong.

Meanwhile, as of January 2010, President Obama has frozen the spending of all departments due to the immense federal deficit. At the same time, there is no budget allocation anywhere for Honolulu's transit. Actually finding big money for it will be much harder than the local political rhetoric indicates.

The above schedule does not take into account delays from lawsuits. At least one lawsuit has been promised. Other federal departments may object to FTA's approval, thus more delays and injunctions are possible.

It does not matter what Hannemann or any politician or city representative says. Without completing the steps required by federal law, there will be no approval and no construction or on-the-ground preparation for construction.

I have a guestimate of a start date for those who remain optimistic about Mufi's rail actually going into construction: 12/12/12. That's less than three years away and about normal for projects of this nature and size.

How can we summarize the original question about jobs and rail? Too little too late.