Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Honolulu’s Potholes Are Costing Drivers And Taxpayers Millions

Quoted in Courtney Teague's story in the Honolulu Civil Beat about the poor quality of pavements in Honolulu.


Local asphalt industry expert Jon Young and Panos Prevedouros, professor and chair of the University of Hawaii Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, agree that the city’s methods for filling potholes are cost-effective, but not the longest-lasting.

“Dramatic deterioration” of Oahu’s roads at the turn of the century forced the city and state to be more proactive about maintenance, said Prevedouros, who once ran for mayor on a platform that focused on fixing infrastructure. He said the city — and especially the state — could improve maintenance strategies.

The state paid UH $1 million over about five years for a report by Ricardo Archilla, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, that looked at ways Oahu could improve its roads and created the recommendations, Prevedouros said.

Though the city did not pay for the report, Prevedouros said it has been quicker to adopt its findings and conduct field assessments.


Prevedouros described the city’s pothole repair methods as “amateurish,” but cost-effective.

He pointed to “very durable” European techniques as a superior example, which involve squaring off the edges of a pothole and using heavy trucks to pack the pothole down in 30-40 minutes. There’s no difference in the amount of time taken to fill the pothole, but there is a difference in quality and longevity of the repair — and cost, he said.

Pothole repairs on state roads take place at night, he said, and more time is spent on them because of the higher traffic volumes.

The city usually fixes potholes quickly during the day in 30 minutes to an hour, Prevedouros said. When crews have to leave for the next pothole, he said the new asphalt isn’t completely dry and is already being damaged by traffic.


Overall, Prevedouros of the University of Hawaii gave Oahu’s roads a D+ grade. The average lifespan of Hawaii roads is short and the powerful sun poses a constant threat, he said.

Road repaving should be prioritized over pothole repair, he said.

“We have made a business of (repairing potholes),” he said. “…It’s emergency Band-Aids and that’s not a way to run any system … it shows that (the road) is way past deterioration.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

CITYLAB: Honolulu's Rapid Transit Crisis

National publication CITYLAB which used to be Atlantic Cities covered the Honolulu rail boondoggle in Honolulu's Rapid Transit Crisis.

Despite a famously laid-back culture, Honolulu’s traffic is about as bad as it gets. In a bid to unsnarl its highways a bit in 2011, the city embarked on a $5.2 billion Honolulu Rail Transit Project. At the time, the planned 20-mile elevated electric train line was expected to ease traffic congestion on Hawaii’s most densely populated island by 18 percent, with the first trips planned for 2017.

Fast forward six years and the still-sputtering project looks very different. The city now estimates that the rail will cost $10 billion—almost five times the city’s annual budget and twice the original project cost estimate—while civil engineering specialists forecast a price tag closer to $13 billion.

Per capita, the Honolulu rail could become the most expensive transit project in U.S. history, according to the conservative public policy think tank Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. What’s more, the funding source of at least $3 billion in projected costs remains unseen. Meanwhile, the city’s traffic problems have worsened and state lawmakers are left divided and scrambling to craft a plan to pay for the cash-strapped project. All told, 75 percent of the contracts needed to bring the project to completion have been awarded, and the first planned trips along the full track are no longer expected to run before 2025.

So when is it too late to quit a major public-infrastructure project gone awry?

“The project is objectively terrible,” says Panos D. Prevedouros, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Hawaii, whose two failed campaigns for mayor embraced an anti-rail platform. “It reminds me of some proclamations that Trump makes with the beautiful wall he wants to build. Well, in this case, it’s the beautiful train. But it is not beautiful. It’s useless for our population.”

Read the Full Article at CITYLAB.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Professor Randall Roth: HART Blames Massive Cost Overruns on Lawsuits to Stop Rail. It’s a Lie.

There were two lawsuits. The one in federal court briefly affected the City’s ability to buy land in the downtown segment, but had no impact on rail construction or construction bidding.

The other lawsuit was brought in state court by Paulette Kaleikini. She sued because the City had started construction without first completing an archaeological study, as is required by law. A unanimous state Supreme Court ordered construction stopped until the City completed the study, which took 13 months. Blaming Ms. Kaleikini is comparable to blaming an abuse victim for seeking legal protection. The City and its contractors simply ignored the law (and the law's purpose) in their rush to get construction beyond a point of no return. The dollar impact of the state lawsuit was slightly more than $39 million, according to HART.

While the federal lawsuit did not stop or even slow down rail construction, it did provide access to FTA’s internal email that referred to the City’s “lousy practices of public manipulation,” use of “inaccurate statements,” culture of “never enough time to do it right, but lots of time to do it over,” the observation that the City had put itself in a “pickle” by setting unrealistic start dates for construction, and concern about the City’s “casual treatment of burials.”

The federal lawsuit took longer than it needed to take because the City’s lawyers used every trick in the book to drag it out. They wanted our legal costs to soar, which they did. Raising the money simply to see that lawsuit to a conclusion was like crawling over a constantly expanding field of broken glass. The City spent more than $3 million on lawyers and expert witnesses, and the delay increased costs by another $3.3 million.

According to HART, the lawsuit delay costs come to about $46 million, see figure above, which is only 0.46% of the current cost of HART rail. Rail's final cost before it started construction was proclaimed to be $5.17 Billion, by mayor Carlisle. Rail's current cost was stated at $10 Billion by mayor Caldwell. HART current cost overrun is 93.4%, of which 1% is due to the two lawsuits.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

HART Rail: Local Cost 34 Times More than H-3

I'd like to thank the Honolulu Star Advertiser for publishing my article with Cliff, originally titled HART Rail: Local Cost 34 Times More than H-3.

Rail will never be as practical as roadways
By Panos Prevedouros and Cliff Slater
July 11, 2017

Oahu’s H-3 freeway endured political controversy and major engineering challenges, such as the boring of two miles of tunnels through solid rock of the Koolau mountains and erecting 160-foot columns for the windward viaduct. Even so, the rail’s construction cost is exorbitant compared with the H-3’s — and that cost to local taxpayers, as explained below, shows how poor the rail choice was and how irrational it would be to continue.

If Mayor Kirk Caldwell is to be believed, the 20-mile elevated rail system will cost $10 billion from Kualakai Parkway to Ala Moana Center, minus $1.55 billion (hopefully) covered by the Federal Transit Administration; and about 15 percent paid by Oahu’s unsuspecting tourists. The rail guideway could instead be used to run buses, providing one traffic lane per direction for a total of two lanes. So its cost to the local taxpayer is $180 million per lane-mile.

The H-3 has two lanes per direction, four lanes total. Because the federal government provided 90 percent of its funding, the cost to local taxpayers was only $5 million per lane-mile, after being adjusted to 2017 using the Price Trends for Federal-Aid Highway Construction Index. Therefore, the lane-mile cost of rail to local taxpayers will be 34 times greater than the cost of the H-3.

The long-term cost difference is actually much greater when operating and maintenance costs are considered. Keeping the trains running will require an annual subsidy of $130 million, according to the city. This is dramatically higher than the annual cost of maintaining the H-3. This would be a new annual cost for Oahu, and it is roughly equal to the $150 million that the state Department of Transportation receives annually from the federal government.

But what about the benefits?

Unlike rail, H-3 connects to existing networks to provide door-to-door transportation options, which most residents and visitors require. Unlike rail, the H-3 directly benefits the military, emergency responders, police, commercial service providers, and public health officials.

The H-3 and other highways also facilitate public transportation by buses, taxi companies, ride-hailing services, and stand ready to serve the future dominance of autonomous, on-call vehicles. The vehicle fleet could be mostly electric in a few decades, which diminish the rail’s “green power” advantage claimed by its proponents.

Last but not least is the economy: Without roads, our economy is dead. Without rail, the economy is better off: That’s according to University of Hawaii economist James Roumasset, who explained that a project with benefits lower than its costs shrinks the economy and thereby shrinks employment. He also has pointed out how rail’s astronomical costs freeze out funding for the adoption of many sensible solutions to Oahu’s traffic congestion problem.

Efforts to continue rail past the intermodal transit center at Middle Street is wasteful and irresponsible public policy. No additional funds should be appropriated for rail. HART’s sole effort should be to bring the project to its end at Middle Street with the funds available, and use city funds for any shortage.

After the acceptance of the system for revenue service, HART should be dissolved; Oahu Transit Services should run all public transit so that good transportation service is provided islandwide. This would mitigate the problem experienced in other cities where the high costs of rail operations have resulted in major cuts of bus routes and service. (The rail’s final environmental impact statement states that 24 routes of The Bus will be eliminated or terminated at the nearest rail station.)

The costs of rail clearly show the massive present and future fiscal impact to Oahu and the state. The brave choice is to convert the project to an automated bus operation — but such bravery, imagination and public-duty responsibility are absent.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Bridge Across the Ala Wai Canal?

I am surprised that the proposal for a bridge across the Ala Wai canal is being discussed again... 15 years ago I wrote a report that included this:

"Adding a bridge to Waikiki across the Ala Wai canal is not a new idea. There has been community opposition to it because a new two or four lane bridge to Waikiki will bring a lot of additional traffic (and increase noise and accident risk) in the neighborhood and park between the Iolani School and the Ala Wai Field. However, my BRT alternative calls for a one-lane limited access bridge which will serve pedestrians, BRT vehicles, and emergency response vehicles."

A shorter version of the report appeared as a Star Bulletin* commentary and then several knives flew in my direction because the Ala Wai is on the National Historical register for its uninterrupted "mirror vista" similar to the reflecting pool in Washington, DC I am not sure that those in charge are aware of this huge limitation for any new bridge across the Ala Wai.

(*) Honolulu's evening newspaper that merged with the Honolulu Advertiser to form the one current newspaper, Honolulu Start Advertiser.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Marjorie Morgan: Riding the Rail Means an Endless Parade of Buses

On July 4, 2017, the Honolulu Star Advertiser published this humorous and poignant account of rail usage in Honolulu in 2030 (maybe):

My family can hardly wait. We can see how rail will change our lives forever.

First thing each weekday, we’ll walk from our home to the shuttle bus stop. It will take only 10 minutes, and the weather will probably be accommodating.

We will patiently wait for the bus, and hope it comes within 10 or 15 minutes. Sooner or later it will take us to the nearest train station, where within minutes we will be on our way to town.

The 20 stops will be humbug, but we will dependably reach the Ala Moana train station not much more than an hour after leaving our home.

Unfortunately, that won’t be the end of our commute. From the Ala Moana rail station, Mommy will then take bus No. 1 to work. Daddy will take bus No. 2 to work. Mikey will take bus No. 3 to Saint Louis School. Sally will take bus No. 4 to Saint Francis School. And baby will take bus No. 5 to preschool.

Oh wait, baby can’t go on the bus alone. I guess Mommy will take baby on bus No. 5 to the preschool. After dropping baby off, Mommy will patiently wait for a bus No. 6 that is headed back to the rail station. From there, Mommy will transfer to bus No. 1.

After work, Daddy will walk back to the bus stop closest to his office, which in his case is only a half-mile and partially protected from the elements. After waiting there for 10 to 15 minutes, Daddy will take bus No. 5 to within a quarter-mile of Mikey’s baseball game. Sally’s walk from her school to her bus station will take only 10 minutes, and the wait for her bus only another 15 to 20 minutes, but her bus stop will be only 5 to 10 minutes from the ballpark where she will join Daddy at Mikey’s game.

When her workday ends, Mommy will take bus No. 1, transfer to bus No. 6, pick up baby, wait for a bus No. 6 headed in the opposite direction, eventually transfer to bus No. 5, so that she and baby can meet the rest of the family at the game.

Afterward, the family will walk to, and wait for, bus No. 8 … transfer to bus No. 9 … and eventually reach the downtown rail station where everyone can enjoy a wonderful dinner.

Oh wait, too expensive. Instead, we’ll just ride the train back to the west side, find seats as riders start getting off at 20 stations, walk to our bus stop where we will eventually take bus No. 10 to within a 10-minute walk of our home.

Unless something unexpected happens, we will enjoy the walk and be home by the kids’ bedtime.

Oh, wait. I forgot about dinner … and working out tomorrow’s transportation plan. Except for Sally’s swim meet at a cross-town school, baby’s doctor’s appointment at Queen’s, and Mikey’s soccer practice, it will be a lot like today’s terrific schedule.

Oh wait, what about stopping off at grandma’s place to wish her a happy birthday? That could be a problem. We don’t expect to have money in the budget for an occasional side trip by taxi once the city raises our property taxes to pay for rail operations.

And to pay payments on all the rail bonds as they come due, the city will need to cut many corners, but that’s OK. I’m pretty sure my kids will get used to not having air-conditioning, clean seats, or any form of security in or around the rail stations.

The trains may be dilapidating, cement guideways crumbling, steel rusting, and escalators stalling, but at least my family will have rail.