Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Honolulu at the Bottom of Top 300 Cities

Shortly after publishing the post on Honolulu's and Hawaii's "no change" situation of the last three decades, I saw the Global Metro Monitor update of the Brookings Institution (a think tank.) Yet another non-flattering economic statistical outcome for socialist-heavy (Democrat) Honolulu.

Blue cities (Democrat majority) are actually mostly red (weak economy).

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hawaii Over The Past 20 Years: Minimal Change, Minimal Growth. What Should Hawaii Plan For?

Annual U.S. Bureau of the Census data strongly suggest that Hawaii, and Oahu in particular, are stable communities with very mild growth and change particularly after the turn of the millennium.

The data suggests that mega-projects such as rail and "big wind", and mega-developments such as Ho'opili and Koa Ridge are ill conceived and unnecessary.

This slideshow provides both data evidence and brief discussion.

Politicians have engaged in biased or data-free decision making for decades. The mounting debts are sufficient proof that ignoring the trends and serially engaging in unproductive activities simply digs a deeper hole. Both Hawaii and the US are approaching the danger of the hole walls caving in and burying them, much like the PIIGS* and other countries.

What should Hawaii do in the next two decades?  The last slide provides the answer. In three sentences:
  • Decline followed by stability will be the trend.
  • Send “visions” and mega-projects to the cemetery.
  • Maintain, Replace, Modernize should be Priority 1.

(*) Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain

Friday, January 11, 2013

Transportation and Energy Infrastructure Projects: Forecasting is Unnecessary

I enjoyed Dr. Martin Wachs' brief article Planning for High Speed Rail (HSR) in California. It centers around planning and forecasting: "The current debate is divisive precisely because improved data and models cannot provide a better glimpse into the future" Wachs says.

After nearly three decades in planning and policy, and six years involvement in local politics I have come to believe that forecasting is unnecessary as a primary decision making tool. Why?

Because transportation infrastructure deployment lags demand by decades. Why do we need to forecast 20+ years into the future? The need is present (or not.) Current data are the best quality data we have. So instead of making numerous uncertain assumptions about a future we do not control, let's assume that the project is built overnight and assess its benefits at the present time.

In the case of Hawaii, when I first relocated here in 1990, traffic congestion was the No. 1 issue and has remained in the top 10 ever since. Twenty three years later, roadway capacity addition has been marginal and most major bottlenecks have not been addressed. So why does the city's planned rail project have a 2030 horizon?

I think the answer is this: The proposed rail does not generate enough ridership with the current population so artificial demand balloons for population and jobs in 2030 are "forecast" to justify the system.

Similarly California has a population of 38 million with huge concentrations in Los Angeles and San Francisco metro areas. If HSR does not work for 38 million, then it won't work. Why is a 20 to 50 year projection needed?

Worse yet, the typical  planning models lack credibility because they are never tested with back-casting.  If Parsons Brinkerhoff's model is trusted to predict transit ridership (bus and rail) in Honolulu with year 2006 as baseline and 2030 as the horizon, does it also predict transit ridership for 1982?  In other words, we should check the model's ability to project forward by using the 24-year period from 1982 to 2006; for which we have perfect information. How does the model do?

I think the answer is this: It does very poorly and for this reason back-casting is never applied.(1)

Obviously, since the inception of a project, several years go by for environmental studies, design,  engineering, funding, bidding and construction. So a 10 years-out plan and forecast is needed. But multi-billion dollar energy and transportation infrastructure projects should be justified by their "now" value and not by future demand balloons.

If the projects are beneficial "now" then long range forecasts can be performed for selecting the proper size for them. For example a reversible highway sized at two lanes for sufficient congestion relief may need to be built with three lanes to accommodate future demand. Similarly a 1,000 MW power plant may be engineered with a 1,200 MW capacity for the future.

Projects funded with private capital, fully or partly as in Public-Private Partnerships, sophisticated risk analyses that protect investment from foreseeable risks are conducted. These meticulous and carefully inspected forecasts of project costs and revenues have little in common with the manipulated forecasts for taxpayer funded and subsidized systems, primarily transit systems.

For taxpayer funded projects forecasting is unnecessary and indeed misleading for decision making. It is commonly used a tool for deception, particularly for rail projects.(2)


(1) My students and I investigated the accuracy of traffic volume forecasts primarily in the agriculture-to-residential mega developments in Ewa between 1976 and 2002. We found this:

The study compared forecast traffic levels from Traffic Impact Analysis Reports prepared between 1976 and 2002 to actual traffic volumes recorded by the Hawaii State DOT in the city and county of Honolulu. The information extracted uniformly from 11 reports included year of report, consultant, type of project, location, movement, forecast horizon, forecast traffic volumes and forecasting method.

This study focused on road and residential developments and examined the accuracy of traffic demand forecasting, the conservative or optimistic tendency in traffic forecasts and the potential factors affecting accuracy. The results revealed that traffic forecasts are on average overestimated by 35% and there is a clear tendency to overestimate future traffic volume. Errors ranged from -40% to +200%.

SOURCE: Caroee, Maja, Panos D. Prevedouros and Alyx Yu, Volume Forecasts for Environmental Impact Statements and Traffic Impact Analysis Reports: Accuracy of Road and Residential Developments in Honolulu, Paper 13-1398, 92nd Annual Meeting of Transportation Research Board, Washington, D.C., 2013.

(2) Flybjerg, Bent, et al., Delusion and Deception in Large Infrastructure Projects (2009)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

U.S. Titanic

Cox, a former chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee and the Securities and Exchange Commission, is president of Bingham Consulting LLC, and Archer, a former chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, is a senior policy adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

On November 26, 2012 the Wall Street Journal published their opinion... Why $16 Trillion Only Hints at the True U.S. Debt: Hiding the government's liabilities from the public makes it seem that we can tax our way out of mounting deficits. We can't.

It explains quite well that the cartoon below is quite real.

JONES ACT Hurts Hawaii (Alaska, Guam and Puerto Rico too)

Bloomberg indicates that U.S. islands such as Puerto Rico, Guam and Hawaii, along with the state of Alaska, feel the effects of the Jones Act more than most localities. Some of Hawaii’s political and business leaders have long complained that the restrictions mean all goods shipped from the U.S. mainland must go via the two carriers serving the state. By some estimates, Jones Act makes goods in Hawaii 33% more expensive than they could be.

For island territories the Jones Act is counterproductive and indeed hazardous. "Russian Icebreaker to Make History in Alaska" is an example of how the Jones Act endangered a community in Alaska. Even in a critical situation like this, the Russian ice breaker could not load oil from an Alaska port and take it to Nome, Alaska, but it had to backtrack to Korea to get the oil and back to Nome, Alaska.

Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama resorted to temporary Jones Act waivers so Foreign-Flag crude tankers could transport the government’s crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to the refineries because no Jones Act tankers were available.  The Bush waiver occurred in September 2005 following Hurricane Katrina and Obama’s from July through September 2010 in response to the loss of Libyan oil on the world market. (The Jones Act is a Critical Energy Issue)

Prophetically in the same March 2012 article Michael Hansen predicted this: "The Jones Act may now result in the closure of Tesoro’s Hawaii refinery."  It happened less than a year later: "Tesoro Corp.’s Hawaii refinery in Kapolei, the largest of the two oil refineries in the state with a capacity of 94,000 barrels a day, is closing its refining operations in April." (PBN, Jan. 8, 2013)

With this introduction in mind, here is a sample of articles asking to ban or modify Jones Act for Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other U.S. Territories:
  • The influential maritime publication Lloyd’s List endorsed an exemption from the U.S. build requirement for Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico. The editorial published on Friday January 4, 2013, was written by Tom Leander, Editor-in-Chief, Asia, Lloyd’s List, based in Hong Kong. Leander writes that "many critics of the Jones Act, including Lloyd’s List, hope that the GAO will provide evidence that can be used to persuade Congress to scuttle the US-built requirement of the Jones Act as it applies to Puerto Rico — and further to Hawaii and Alaska – under a so-called sunset waiver."
  • The Secretary of the U.S. Department Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, issued a Jones Act waiver this morning to allow foreign-flag clean products tankers carry refined petroleum products from domestic coastwise ports to the North East which is suffering from shortages of motor gasoline and diesel fuel due to Hurricane Sandy.  The waiver expires on November 13.
  • Hawaii Shippers Council Outlines Jones Act Reform Proposals: The Council's press release observes that "90 years of Jones Act protection has resulted in the near complete collapse of the U.S. deep draft merchant shipbuilding industry, and continuing that protection for the noncontiguous trades will not save it. The Act has generally failed to achieve its intended goal to nurture the U.S. maritime industry, and commercial deep draft commercial shipbuilding in the United States is all but ended."
  • Honolulu Star-Advertiser's Guard asea on aged craft reveals Coast Guard issues with aging cutters it cannot afford to replace: “The Coast Guard in Hono­lulu faces a dilemma with its two biggest ships, the aging 378-foot cutters Jarvis and Rush, which the service wants to retire but can't because it has no replacements.” 
  • Senator-candiate (at the time) Mazie Hirono provided a container load of untruths to justify her baseless support for the Jones Act: "In Hawaii especially, the maritime industry is an essential economic mover, generating more than $4.7 billion annually into Hawaii’s economy and providing more than $1.1 billion in wages and benefits for our people."
  • Sen. Hirono position is diametrically opposed to Representative Pedro Pierluisi's, Puerto Rico member of the U.S. House of Representatives. “I am pleased that the GAO is actively working on my request to determine, once and for all, the economic impact that the cabotage laws have on Puerto Rico. This study should put an end to all of the speculation that surrounds this subject and, if the study concludes that the Jones Act is having a negative impact on our economy, could provide the basis for potential legislative action in Congress,” said Pierluisi. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is preparing a report “to provide policymakers with a comprehensive, descriptive summary of information on the Puerto Rican and Caribbean Basin trade markets, and how the Jones Act potentially affects these markets.” 
Endnote: These U.S. territories are exempt from the Jones Act: American Samoa, The U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) and The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) due to the international treaties associated with their annexation by the U.S.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Oahu Is Rising


This is not about economic growth, intellectual enlightenment, or attaining some other form of excellence. 

This is a matter of fact statement about the geography of Oahu: It is rising. Every century the Koolaus will grow taller.

Contrary to global warming theories that for decades have suggested that Oahu’s shores will be inundated and beaches will be lost, new scientific analysis shows that even with possible sea lever rise, and even with the constant erosion of the island by wind and rain, Oahu will grow taller thanks to strong volcanic forces that lift it up from the bottom of the ocean.

The effects of climate, soil thickness, and water contact times on Oahu, Hawaii is the title of the article by Stephen T. Nelson, David G. Tingey, and Brian Selck from the Department of Geological Sciences, at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah.

Here is their remarkable conclusion: “Recent work indicates that Oahu is tectonically emerging at 0.060 m/ka. As long as this uplift continues, the net size of the island will slowly increase and the Koolau Range should persist as an orographic trap to precipitation, maintaining relative aridity in the Waianae Range.”

That’s 6 cm every 1,000 years. Not sure if that's enough to protect from any sea level rise due to polar ice melting.