April 18, 2011.
Panos featured in Scottish newspaper re failing Edinburgh rail:
The Transport Reporter for the Edinburgh Evening News features UH engineering professor Dr. Panos Prevedouros' comments on their rail problems. The line has been built to 28 percent of the projected line but they have spent full 62 percent of the budget.
It is a Parsons Brinckerhoff project, and they are now at an impasse with the Edinburgh City Council appear ready to stop funding for the rail line. As Panos is quoted, "Honolulu is clearly no different - subservient professionals offer politicians what they want to hear, and clueless politicians believe all of it."
Rail usually results in unwarranted cuts to bus service:
Recent news in the Los Angeles Times recounts how the Transportation Authority is making "sweeping cuts to bus service as part of the largest overhaul of the system in more than a decade."
They also report that, "Protesters outside Metro offices and inside the boardroom Thursday decried the cuts as an assault on those with low incomes and said people of color will be disproportionately affected by the reduction in services. Some have criticized Metro in recent years for embarking on an ambitious plan to expand its rail service without putting forth larger efforts for its bus service."
There has been an enormous amount of conflict over the years in Mainland cities between inner city low-income bus riders and the Transportation Authorities that run bus and rail lines. When city budgets get tight it is usually bus service that gets cut rather than rail service. This has led to Bus Riders Unions in New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver, among many others.
It is therefore unusual to find that proponents for low-income groups such as the local group, Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE), should be pushing for rail transit. First, it may well lead to cuts in bus service, and second, it is being financed by the most regressive tax we have, the General Excise tax. But they do have good intentions.
Robert Poole, "Do roads pay for themselves":
Poole say written a fine, short piece linking to both the Public Interest Research Group's recent report, which is predictably anti-highway, and Thomas Rubin's Report covering the same subject but the from the pro-highway viewpoint.
Poole makes some adjustments to the data but still concludes that highways, but not streets, are self supporting. It is essential to understand the arguments pro and con to successfully make the case for highway improvements, such as toll roads.
Change made to "Where does the rail project stand today.":
We have made some minor changes to bring this document up to date and have added the following:
"Notwithstanding our negative comments about the rail project's prospects of meeting the financial requirements of the FTA process, we are still proceeding with a lawsuit. It would be foolish of us to underestimate the ability of Sen. Inouye, rail’s primary proponent, to pull out some financial rabbits out of the hat before this is all over. While Republicans who wish to curtail New Starts funding control the House, they do not control the House/Senate Conference Committee where Sen. Inouye, as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, is a commanding figure.
"Accordingly, we have now retained Mr. Nicholas C. Yost, of the San Francisco offices of global law firm, SNRDenton to institute legal proceedings against the Federal Transit Administration and the City and County of Honolulu. The lawsuit will cite the legal deficiencies of the environmental processes leading up to, and including, both the Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Record of Decision.
"Plaintiffs will be former Hawai‘i Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano, Hawai‘i State Senator Samuel Slom, Hawai‘i non-profit corporation Honolulutraffic.com, Inc., and Cliff Slater. We anticipate additional plaintiffs and amicus briefs prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
"Mr. Yost, was formerly General Counsel of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and was responsible for drafting the regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act and its environmental impact statement requirement throughout the federal government. He was last year’s winner of the American Bar Association’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy.
"His bio is available at http://www.snrdenton.com/people/y/yost_nicholas_c.aspx
"For details about Mr. Yost's opinion on our upcoming legal action, see his letter to Governor Cayetano at: www.honolulutraffic.com/Yost_1.pdf
"Mr. Yost says that, “We are delighted to have been retained to undertake this worthy battle -- and expect to succeed.” He anticipates filing the suit in a month or so."
April 1, 2011.
A layman’s view of our lawsuit, Part I: Section 4(f):
There will be many elements to our lawsuit, according to our attorneys, and a principal one is what is known "section 4(f)." We have prepared a layman's view of this statute so that our readers can understand just the basic logic behind it without getting the lawyers involved in the minutiae.
Coming shortly will be our next layman's view, Part II: Studying the whole corridor.
Highlights of the Honolulutraffic.com news conference:
The news conference announcing the retention of Nicholas Yost to begin legal proceedings against the Federal Transit Administration and our City Administration was a remarkable success. The media kept the conference going for an hour as Nick Yost so competently explained exactly why the City and the FTA were remiss in their handling of the environmental process for the rail project.
March 29, 2011.
Honolulutraffic retains nation's leading environmental lawyer:
We are announcing at noon today at a news conference at the offices of Cronin, Fried, Sekiya, Kekina & Fairbanks that we have retained Mr. Nicholas C. Yost, of the San Francisco offices of global law firm, SNRDenton.
We have retained him to institute legal proceedings against the Federal Transit Administration and the City and County of Honolulu. The lawsuit will cite the legal deficiencies of the environmental processes leading up to, and including, both the Final Environmental Impact Statement and the Record of Decision.
Plaintiffs will be former Hawai‘i Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano, Hawai‘i State Senator Samuel Slom, Hawai‘i non-profit corporation Honolulutraffic.com, Inc., and Cliff Slater. We anticipate additional plaintiffs and amicus briefs prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
Mr. Yost, was formerly General Counsel of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, and was responsible for drafting the regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act and its environmental impact statement requirement throughout the federal government. He was last year’s winner of the American Bar Association’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Environmental Law and Policy.
His bio is available at http://www.snrdenton.com/people/y/yost_nicholas_c.aspx
For details about Mr. Yost's opinion on our upcoming legal action, see his letter to Governor Cayetano at: www.honolulutraffic.com/Yost_1.pdf
Mr. Yost says that, “We are delighted to have been retained to undertake this worthy battle -- and expect to succeed.” Mr. Yost will entertain questions during the conference.
While we have raised $90,000 so far, we still need another $110,000. Please contribute to our Rail Fund with as much as you can spare. Just think how much it is worth to you to not have to live with this monstrosity:
• Trains will run every 3 minutes in each direction; a train every 1½ minutes at 83 decibels!
• They say it will cost $5.5 billion. Experience says $7 billion. Property tax hike coming?
• People using transit are supposed to increase by 31,000 daily more than if we do nothing.
• That is $212,000 in construction costs for every new person using transit! Then add the operating losses to that.
• To run the train increases its share of the City budget from 11% to 15%. Property tax hike?
• And the City admits, “Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today.”
Please contribute all you can, from $10 to $10,000 by writing a tax-deductible check to the "SBH Educational Foundation Rail Fund." (SBH Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization).
Then deliver, or mail, to:
SBH Entrepreneurial Education Foundation
6600 Kalanianaole Hwy, Suite 212
Honolulu HI 96825
Downtown station at Bishop & Nimitz. Rendering by AIA members.
March 22, 2011.
Our comments on today's news:
First, if you did not catch the Star Advertiser's news today, please read it. You would think from that the City was just about to begin construction of the rail line. Nothing could be further from the truth. This morning one of our members called worried that construction was about to start. When I told her that no money had been appropriated by Congress for construction, she asked, "Is the newspaper lying?" We told her, "No, they are just not telling you all the truth."
Second, two days ago in response to a FOIA request, we received the February 2011 Progress Report from the FTA's Project Management Oversight Contractor. In the narrative they make it clear that, "“Utility relocation and guideway construction are anticipated to begin in late 2011 and early 2012, respectively.” You would never guess from the City's latest PR efforts that they are at least a year away from being able to construct anything, and six months away from even moving some utilities around.
Third, in going with the low bidder they obviously did not check on the bidder's background, judging from the Civil Beat report today. Here are just four paragraphs from their report:
"After complaints AnsaldoBreda was more than three years late delivering train cars, a $300 million contract between the company and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority fell apart in October 2009. The company had already delivered too-heavy cars, which required the Los Angeles transit agency to reinforce some bridges. Ansaldo blamed the transportation authority for a botched order."
"Officials in Washington, D.C., have also complained about train cars manufactured by AnsaldoBreda's predecessor, Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie. In 2005, the Washington Post reported the city's Metro had to spend $382 million to overhaul its fleet of so-called Breda cars, which needed new brakes, propulsion and other improvements.
"Earlier this month, the mayor of Hornell, N.Y., reportedly complained about AnsaldoBreda's delays, which resulted in furloughs for workers, according to the Buffalo News. In 2009, the Copenhagen (Denmark) Post reported delays and operational problems with Ansaldo Breda cars."
"Honolulu rail spokeswoman Jeanne Mariana Belding told Civil Beat there is a clear distinction between AnsaldoBreda and AnsaldoHonolulu, which is handling core systems for the city's $5.5 billion project. In the contracting world, that distinction is actually a big deal," Belding said. "In this case, the contract was awarded to AnsaldoHonolulu, which is a joint venture of AnsaldoSTS and AnsaldoBreda. It's just not the same company." Right.
Fourth, the City keeps talking about the low bids from the City's estimates as though the bid will not include change orders. Since the Mayor does not have much experience with construction, we would like him to understand that the winning bidder is always the guy that finds holes in the contract that will allow future change orders, when the other guys didn't. You do not make money on the bid, you make it on the change orders.
It is really a shame that Mayor Carlisle who built up a great reputation as a straightshooter should blow it in just months in a way that voters will not forget.
March 13, 2011.
We now have the video for the first Yoshioka confirmation:
For background see below about 30 lines down, "What really happened at the Yoshioka confirmation?"
Then go to the City's video webpage at: http://www1.honolulu.gov/cameras/council/index.htm (save this to your favorites because it has great material). Open the site and look at the top of the page for Transportation Committee meeting on February 9, 2011. Then click on “VIDEO.”
Click on the begin start arrow and as the blue line appears from the left side of the screen you may click on the end of it, whereupon a blue pill shape appears together with the elapsed time of the video. Click on the “pill” and drag it to the right until it shows the elapsed time that you want.
The confirmation of Acting DTS Director Yoshioka begins at 0hrs:31mins.30secs with his opening statement. Public testimony starts at 0:36:00. Testifying first is Pearl Johnson of the League of Women Voters against, followed by architect Geoffrey Paterson against, Rev. Higashi in support, Brandon Kim in support, Ray Horiga against, Ted Kanemori against, Bobbie Slater against, Hannah Miyamoto in support, Dr. Kioni Dudley against, Cinnie Frith against, Eric Swy(?) in support, Cliff Slater (from 1:25:00 to 1:46:00) against.
The most relevant issue of this meeting and the subsequent full Council meeting on the same issue is that the new Councilmembers appeared to pay no attention to the allegations against Yoshioka's integrity; they did not even ask any questions. Of course, Councilmembers Cachola and Kobayashi were not only interested, they were obviously quite aggravated. In particular, Chair Breene Harimoto was obviously quite biased and only wanted to get the meeting over with. One could be forgiven for thinking that this new Council is a setup.
A video and op/ed about TODs: "Fruitless in Fruitvale":
In December 2007, now Councilmember Tom Berg published an excellent op/ed in the Star-Bulletin based on his visit to the Fruitvale TOD in Oakland, California. He subsequently followed that up with video about the Fruitvale TOD. These are must see and must read.
March 1, 2011.
George Will's excellent column in Newsweek:
Here are the first three paragraphs of his column on high-speed rail:
"Generations hence, when the river of time has worn this presidency’s importance to a small, smooth pebble in the stream of history, people will still marvel that its defining trait was a mania for high-speed rail projects. This disorder illuminates the progressive mind.
"Remarkably widespread derision has greeted the Obama administration’s damn-the-arithmetic-full-speed-ahead proposal to spend $53 billion more (after the $8 billion in stimulus money and $2.4 billion in enticements to 23 states) in the next six years pursuant to the president’s loopy goal of giving “80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.” “Access” and “high-speed” to be defined later.
"Criticism of this optional and irrational spending — meaning: borrowing — during a deficit crisis has been withering. Only an administration blinkered by ideology would persist."
Just a reminder that our "Quotes" tab has some excellent material:
Here's one that we particularly like from Parsons Brinckerhoff:
“The light rail transit alternative was dropped because subsequent analyses revealed that Bus/Rapid Transit using electric-powered vehicles could accomplish virtually all of the objectives of light rail transit at substantially less cost.”
Source: MIS/Draft EIS of the Honolulu Bus/Rapid Transit Program, August 2000. pp. 2-2 to 2-4. Prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas.
Honolulutraffic.com News: What really happened at the Yoshioka confirmation:
Absolutely no one in the media, from blogs, online news sources, TV stations to the Star-Advertiser, covered the Yoshioka confirmation adequately. For example, no one covered the "misrepresentations" of which Yoshioka was accused, No one asked Cliff Slater why he was saying he was slandered and what he would have said had he been allowed to talk. Accordingly we write the account that at least one of the media should have written:
HONOLULU, Hawaii. At a hearing of the City Council Transportation Committee on February 9, the main item on the Agenda was the confirmation of Wayne Y. Yoshioka as Director of Transportation Services. Seven people testified as to his worthiness and as many found he was not sufficiently transparent with the Council and the public concerning the rail transit project.
Cliff Slater, Chair of Honolulutraffic.com, testified that Yoshioka had misled the Council and the public on many occasions and had four examples which he presented.
First, was the Council meeting on June 9, 2009, when Yoshioka under intense questioning by Councilmember Cachola repeatedly denied the City had a revised financial plan from that contained in the Draft EIS and that when one was ready he would present it to the Council. He also had repeatedly said that while the ½ percent GE Tax collections were a little slow now, they predicted a pickup that would make up the shortfall in future years.
In reality, Yoshioka had already submitted a new financial plan to the FTA as part of a submittal to request entry in the Preliminary Engineering phase. Yoshioka later claimed that the new plan was actually a draft plan. Slater claims it was not and that a Freedom of Information Act request revealed an internal FTA discussion document that clearly showed it was a plan and not a draft. Secondly, in that plan, the City forecast a $700 million shortfall in tax collections.
As his second examples, Slater claimed that Yoshioka was fully aware that ''traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail." But over the years he fought off saying that explicitly. Instead he said that, “rail would relieve traffic congestion,” when, in fact, what he should have said was that rail would relieve traffic congestion in the future with rail from what it would be without rail, but that congestion would still be worse than what it is today.
Slater says it was only in June of 2010, in response to Honolulutraffic.com's comments on the Draft EIS that Yoshioka wrote plainly, "You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail." Slater claimed that Yoshioka buried it in the middle of the 3,200 page Appendix A. If Yoshioka had wanted to be transparent it should have been in plain view in the Executive Summary so that the public and elected officials could fully understand that there was no traffic relief in sight.
Third, Yoshioka hid from the Council the FTA's assessment of the high probabilities of the rail transit project’s chances of cost overruns. Slater said that the fact that, in FTA’s view, there is considerable risk of cost overruns, and how they should be evaluated, should have been made clear to the City Council. Instead, Yoshioka failed to warn the Council of the dangers of cost overruns. Slater says that when the FTA revealed their risk analysis of the New Jersey tunnel to Gov. Christie, he cancelled the tunnel project as having cost overruns too risky for his taxpayers to bear.
There was intense questioning of Slater by Councilmembers Kobayashi and Cachola and none by the other three Councilmembers Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, Ernest Martin, and Nestor Garcia. Councilmember Cachola asked Slater if he would present his documents to the City Councilmembers and he agreed.
At the end of the hearing the vote to confirm was 3-2, with Councilmembers Kobayashi and Cachola in opposition.
A few days later Slater presented his documentation to the Councilmembers.
Two weeks on February 23, the full Council met to consider to confirmation of Yoshioka. The testimony given was virtually the same as that of the Transportation Committee except that at the end Yoshioka accused Slater of lying and mentioned the 20 misrepresentations by Slater that he had presented to the City Council. At this point Slater was on his feet demanding to answer this slander but with Council Chair Garcia screaming that he was out of order, Slater stood down.
The vote to confirm was 6-3 with Tom Berg added in opposition.
We later asked Slater what he would have said had he had an opportunity. He said that one of the "misrepresentations" listed was Slater saying that "traffic congestion in the future with rail would be worse than it is today," which, Slater said, was exactly the same words that Yoshioka had buried in the Final EIS. The other nineteen, he said, were nearly as ridiculous.
February 21, 2011.
Dallas News: “DART’s folly in playing with trains”:
The following was the lead story in the Dallas News last Thursday. We hope our Councilmembers are paying attention:
"The opening of the $2 billion, 27-mile Green Line now makes Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) the operator of the biggest light rail system in the nation. But to what end? asks Bill Ceverha, a former six-term member of the Texas Legislature.
"The numbers below are from DART documents:
• The fixed-route (bus and rail) ridership on DART is less than it was 10 years ago, despite population in the service area growing 17 percent since 2000.
• In that same period, DART has collected almost $4 billion ($300 million to $400 million a year) in local sales taxes and hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars on a system that makes hardly a dent in area traffic congestion.
• DART's staff has grown from just under 2,800 employees in 2000 to 3,900 in 2010, an increase of 39 percent.
• For comparison, the Dallas district of the state Transportation Department -- which includes seven counties with a population of more than 4 million and oversees almost 11,000 lane miles of highways -- has fewer than 1,000 employees.
• DART's operating expenses from 2000 to 2010 grew from $242 million to $402 million, a growth of 66 percent to operate a system with declining ridership.
• Meanwhile, as predicted, the agency has reduced the number of bus miles to force ridership onto the light rail system, in many cases making the commute last longer for the regular rider.
"Every time a rider stepped on a rail car or bus in 2010, local taxpayers were paying a $4.45 subsidy for that ride, compared with $2.94 in 2000. The "rider" kicks in a little over $1 per boarding, says Ceverha. Dallas needs to take a serious look at how DART spends its money and what happens from now on. In the meantime, the city needs to recognize its responsibility for how it spends taxpayer dollars, whether local, state or federal."
Let's be clear about what the ceremonial groundbreaking is all about:
The January 18, 2011, cover letter to the City from the Federal Transit Administration for its Record of Decision has the following in it:
"Upon FTA's approval of the Real Estate Acquisition Management Plan (RAMP), the City and County of Honolulu is authorized to take the following Project actions without prejudice to FTA's future financial assistance for these actions:
"This pre-award authorization is not a real or implied commitment by FTA to provide any funding for the Project or any element of the Project. However, if FTA were to provide grant funding for the Project, the cost of the actions listed above, performed after RAMP approval, would be eligible expenses. No other Project action has pre-award authorization at this time." [The underlining is in the original].
In short, the groundbreaking in the area of where the East Kapolei Station is located has nothing to do with anything the City is allowed to do. More shibai from the City.
Census Bureau — Oahu transit ridership down again:
The Census Bureau reports that 2009 Oahu commuters declined again from 2000 levels. Oahu commuters using transit declined to 7.5 percent of the workforce in 2009, down steadily over the years from 10.0 percent in 1980. The percentage of commuters who drove or carpooled stayed level while those who worked at home increased.
The trend away from public transportation is national as well as local and makes little difference whether cities have rail or not.
February 20, 2011.
Please show up to demonstrate against the City's soil breaking on Tuesday:
The City is having a ceremonial groundbreaking for the rail project this Tuesday, February 22. Up to the point that politicians start abusing the state's most productive farmland with shiny shovels, we will be waving signs across the street. Please be there for the sign waving which starts at 9:30 AM as the dignitaries(?) start to arrive.
Directions: Take the freeway going west. As you get near the Pearl City area get in the left lanes and when you reach the H-1 / H-2 merge, keep left, going past Waikele and then on as if you were going to Wai’anae. Three miles later you will see a sign for North-South Rd. Take the freeway off-ramp to the bottom of the hill and turn left onto North-South Road. Continue on down North-South Road (also known as Kapolei Parkway). About two miles down, you will see our tent on the right side of the road
We should all understand, as Pearl Johnson reminds us, that a ceremonial groundbreaking is not the same as a groundbreaking ceremony. A ceremonial groundbreaking is politicians with shovels; a ground breaking ceremony is far more serious because it incorporates budget breaking. Fortunately, this one is only a ceremonial groundbreaking.
Wednesday's confirmation of DTS Director is a question of his integrity:
The Council Transportation Committee's meeting of February 9 included the issue of whether to confirm Wayne Yoshioka as City Director of Transportation Services.
The meeting turned out to be quite contentious and revolved around whether Wayne Yoshioka has misrepresented aspects of the rail project to the City Council and the public.
We made our case to the Council at their meeting that he should not be confirmed. We told of the situation in June 2009 when Councilmembers repeatedly asked Yoshika if he had prepared a new financial plan and he said only that he was working on it and would present it in due time. He had also been saying that while collections of the ½ percent GE tax surcharge were behind projections it would be made up in later years.
This was all happening at a time when Yoshioka had already submitted a month earlier a financial plan to the Federal Transit Administration in support of the City's request to enter the Preliminary Engineering phase and the plan showed that the City was forecasting a $700 million shortfall in tax collections. Councilmembers asked us to submit documentation about this and other incidents and we did so. It is essential reading.
One of the disturbing matters about the meeting was that the two experienced Councilmembers, Romy Cachola and Ann Kobayashi, questioned Yoshioka in great detail about his lack of transparency. The other three Committee member Councilmembers Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, Ernie Martin, and the Chair Breene Harimoto, asked no questions of any of the testifiers, but all voted in favor of Yoshioka. The Committee voted to approve Yoshioka to the full City Council 3-2, leaving many of those attending with an uncomfortable feeling about the process.
The matter of Yoshioka's confirmation comes before the City Council this Wednesday, February 23, at its 10:00 AM meeting and is slated for hearing fairly early on in the agenda.
Star Advertiser points out some negative aspects of the rail project:
Today's Star Advertiser has a story by reporter Gene Park titled "If they build it, will developers come?"
This may be the most negative headline (reporters do not write them) the Star-Advertiser has ever written about the rail line, which is a story in itself.
The story revolves around the lack of any tangible action by developers getting involved in transit-oriented and other rail related development and is worth reading.
We do take issue with the first paragraph that reads, "Many hope Tuesday's groundbreaking for Honolulu's long-debated $5.5 billion rail system will mark the beginning of the end to notorious Oahu traffic woes, but just as critical is the hope that millions of dollars in "transit-oriented development" will spring up around rail stations along the route."
The City has already said, "traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail." Why does the paper not say that traffic relief through rail is a false hope? Second, taxpayers who are paying attention know that all, repeat all, transit-oriented developments are highly subsidized. Why on earth do taxpayers want developers building housing that has to be subsidized because otherwise people would not live in the dense, "vibrant" housing that TODs call for? Further the TODs are to be accessed by rail transit that has to be subsidized because people will not pay what riding on it costs. Only politicians could dream up schemes like this.
Then Paul Brewbaker is quoted, "history has shown that development has occurred depending on a community's method of transportation.”
We beg to differ with Paul if his statement relates to modern rail transit. UC-Berkeley Professors Cervero and Landis extensively studied the impacts of twenty years of BART on land development and summarised their findings in Cervero, R. and Landis, J. 1997. Twenty Years of BART: Land Use and Development Impacts. Here are excerpts:
“Just about everyone agrees that developing housing near BART stations is a good idea. In practice, it has always been a tough sell. Until recently, Bay Area apartment developers were more interested in suburban properties than older urban neighborhoods.
“Local general plans and development policies were — and to some extent, still are — indifferent to multi-family housing development. In addition, residents of established single-family neighborhoods around BART stations like North Berkeley and Rockridge have long opposed residential densification of any form. Except at a few isolated stations like Fremont, Pleasant Hill, and now Fruitvale and Castro Valley, opportunities for large-scale residential development have been sparse.
“Thus, notwithstanding thirty years of demolition and construction, most near-BART housing is what it was and where it was two decades ago. In 1990, apartments comprised about three-quarters of the housing stock at BART station areas, about the same as in 1970 [before BART began service].”
After detailing what the expectations had been for BART and its impact on urban development, the authors then found,
“As the foregoing suggests, one would expect population and employment growth to favor sites served by BART. To what extent has this actually been so?
“Contrary to expectations, we found that population has grown faster away from BART than near it. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission divides the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area into 34 transportation planning superdistricts. In the twenty years since BART opened, population grew 35.2 percent in the 25 superdistricts not served by BART and only 17.1 percent in the nine BART-served superdistricts.”
In addition, despite the billions spent on BART, the percentage of Bay Area commuters using public transportation continues to decline. As we have said elsewhere, if the actual results of BART’s ridership, financial losses, effects on traffic congestion, and impacts on urban development had been correctly forecast, BART would never have been built. For that matter, if Honolulu's transit officials were to ever tell truth, there is no chance that rail would be built here either.
February 19, 2011.
Our latest FOIA response suggest City is doing little about its financial plan:
Recently we submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for "a copy of any Financial Plans submitted to FTA relating to the Honolulu High Capacity Transit Project subsequent to the 'Financial Plan For Entry Into Preliminary Engineering Submittal, May 2009, updated August 2009,' and any documents that discuss such plans."
The plan referenced is the last plan that the Council or the public has seen. It relies for rail construction funding on $300 million in federal bus funds that the FTA's Administrator has recently told the City they cannot use.
Today we received a response to our request. The FTA told us, "We have searched our records and find that we do not have any records responsive to your request."
This response is rather strange; we were not expecting a new financial plan but we were anticipating correspondence between FTA and the City. For example, the FTA has been asking the City for an independent contractor to forecast the GE Tax surcharge revenue collections; we were thinking that the City would be asking for FTA's approval of their choice of contractors. There being no correspondence indicates that there is little activity in producing a new financial plan, which the FTA has said on several occasions is necessary for the City to proceed to the next stage in the FTA process.
February 16, 2011.
City rail funding takes a hit — and maybe two:
"FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff said Tuesday the City and County of Honolulu’s revised financial plan for rail transit must be more robust and not compromise public bus service. "We need to see a financial plan that shows that they have not only the funding to meet their obligations above the federal commitment (but) they also need to demonstrate to us that they have sufficient resources to keep the existing bus service operating and well maintained,” said Rogoff, during a nationwide conference call with reporters.
“In the most recent financial plan submitted to the FTA in September of 2009, the city uses of $300 million in federal bus subsidies to fund construction of the $5.5 billion elevated rail system.”
The FTA appears to have told the City yesterday that they cannot use the $300 million in bus funds. The current financial plan for funding rail construction shows it will use $1.5 billion in federal New Starts funds, $300 million from the federal bus funds, and $3.5 billion from the additional ½ percent GE tax.
What the story does not mention is that the FTA is requiring the City to use an independent evaluator, not Parsons Brinckerhoff, to forecast the amount the City can collect from the GE tax. The problem here is that no matter how “independent” this new entity is, it is up against the tax collection study contained in the IMG Report.
This forecast of GE Tax revenues was performed by the highly respected Land Use and Economic Consulting Group of CB Richard Ellis, a global development advisory firm. They forecast collections of $800 million less than the $3.5 billion forecast by the City.
The bus funds cut and the shortfall in tax collections places the City a total of $1.1 billion less than what it needs. The only funds available to the City are the federal New Starts funds and the GE tax surcharge. We continue to believe that without a new source of funds such as a tax increase of some kind the City cannot possibly construct a new financial plan that is robust enough to satisfy the FTA.
In addition to that we are trying to confirm what we have been told about the reduction in New Starts funds in the U.S. House Continuing Resolution for the remainder of FY 2011. We have heard that the proposed cut in New Starts funding effectively cuts all funding that has not been obligated in prior years. That would include Honolulu since no serious funds have been obligated for us at all.
February 15, 2011.
The "Train from Nowhere" video is now up at YouTube:
This is the first half of the City's video of a helicopter flyover of the route. This 3-minute video covers roughly the first half of the 20-mile route. It is the ten miles from the prospective East Kapolei Station to the Pearl Harbor Station. It plays well on most mobile phones. It shows how ridiculous it is to start a heavy rail line in the middle of empty fields. Click here for http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S45A5yD2soo
February 14, 2011.
A point of clarification about the February 22nd ceremonial groundbreaking:
We should all understand, as Pearl Johnson reminds us, that a ceremonial groundbreaking is not the same as a groundbreaking ceremony. A ceremonial groundbreaking is politicians with shovels; a ground breaking ceremony is far more serious because it incorporates a bank breaking ceremony. Fortunately, this one is only a ceremonial groundbreaking.
February 12, 2011.
City announces "groundbreaking" for the rail transit project:
The City sent out invitations recently for a February 22nd "groundbreaking" for the rail project. This is a phony groundbreaking; it is a version of the late Council Chair Barbara Marshall's quip, "Can we break ground next year? Of course we can because all you need are a few politicians and a shovel." So the politicians, and all those expecting to gain from the project, the unions, developers, construction companies, and engineering companies will dutifully line up with shiny shovels for the press photo op.
However, there are a few difficulties ahead, not the least of which is the risk that the new Republican Congress will find that borrowing $1.55 billion from the Chinese Communist Government to fund our rail line is not necessary for the financial survival of our country. This is especially so since the first few miles of line are in empty fields as can be seen from this City video.
February 10, 2011.
Video of former Gov. Cayetano's 1/31 press conference on Olelo:
The Press Conference that featured Gov. Cayetano and a coalition of opponents that section of the elevated heavy rail line running along the Honolulu waterfront through the historic districts was held on January 31.
Participants included The League of Women Voters-Honolulu, The Outdoor Circle, Life of the Land, Hawaii’s 1000 Friends, Michelle Matson representing the donors of Irwin Park, Residents Along The Rail, Save Farmland Alliance, and numerous individual architects. The participants had agreed upon a statement of unity as follows:
"We support the construction of a sensitive transit system through downtown Honolulu. We believe the City’s proposed elevated heavy rail project will destroy mauka-makai view planes, create a physical barrier between the city and our famed waterfront and disturb Native Hawaiian burial grounds along its right-of-way. Also, we believe that the proposed system will be an intrusion on the landscape, will forever alter the character of the communities through which it is built and will negatively impact the lives of people who live and work in Honolulu’s urban core. We consequently are united in our opposition to the construction of an elevated heavy-rail system through historic downtown Honolulu and strongly urge consideration of a less destructive and more neighborhood friendly system.
Videographer Dennis Callan filmed the event and a 30-minute video will be shown on Olelo on Channel 54 at the following dates and times:
2/13/11 Sunday 2:00 pm, 2/14/11 Monday 6:30 pm, 2/15/11 Tuesday 10:00 pm, 2/16/11 Wednesday 8:30 am.
Please either watch it at that time or set your DVR to record it.
UHERO releases a Brief on the Honolulu rail project:
On February 4, the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization released a Brief titled, "Honolulu rail Transit: Do the Benefits Justify the Costs?"
Their conclusion was that, "Preliminary considerations suggest a high degree of uncertainty about whether the benefits of rail justify the costs. As the conversation about rail costs advances, we should continue to consider the relative size of the benefits." It is worth reading the two-page brief in its entirety.
More news about the New Jersey Tunnel justifies Gov. Christie's decision:
When Gov. Christie cancelled the $8.7 billion New Jersey tunnel project it was because his own Transportation Department forecast that it could eventually cost as much as $14 billion, far higher than the FTA estimate. Now Wendell Cox reports that Amtrak wants to build a tunnel two-thirds the size of the one cancelled for a cost of $13.5 billion.
Brookings Institute publishes new book on transit inefficiency:
Wendell Cox reviews Clifford Winston's new book on the inefficiencies of the country's public transit systems. Following are the first two paragraphs of the review:
"In his new book, Last Exit: Privatization and Deregulation of the U.S. Transportation System, Brookings Institution economist Clifford Winston contends that transit subsidies are largely the result of labor productivity losses, inefficient operations and counterproductive federal regulations.
"Winston finds that transit service is so underutilized, that load factors were at 18 percent for rail and 14 percent for buses in the 1990s, before the Federal transit administration stopped requiring transit agencies to report that information."
Lawsuit filed by Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. to stop rail:
KHON Channel 2's Andrew Pereira had the best coverage of the this story. Here are the first three paragraphs:
"On Monday January 31, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation filed a lawsuit filed Monday afternoon in Honolulu Circuit Court hopes to stop construction of the city's $5.5 billion rail project.
"The complaint filed by Paulette Ka'anohiokalani Kaleikini claims both the city and state failed to perform a complete archeological survey of native Hawaiian remains, or iwi, along the entire 20 mile rail line as required by state law.
"Kaleikini is being represented by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving the indigenous people.
Freedom works advocates cutting federal spending for Honolulu rail:
Freedomworks, ( www.freedomwork.org ) in its most recent recommendations for budget cutting includes Honolulu rail. It is part of a total of $3.5 trillion, or 25 percent, cut in federal spending that Freedomworks recommends.
February 6, 2011.
It is time to get involved in killing elevated rail through town:
Killing elevated rail will take effort. We have supporters who favor doing nothing that raises taxes, others that favor light rail at-grade, or hybrid light rail elevated out of town and at-grade in town, or Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) running with autos on an elevated toll way stopping short of downtown. But everyone is united in their abhorrence of an elevated heavy rail through town that would totally ruin our city — it would be “visual misery” as the Outdoor Circle terms it.
We have to attack the weaknesses of the rail project; they are basically three fold:
First, it’s the legal deficiencies of the project. The City and the Federal Transit Administration are highly vulnerable to the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation’s recent filing against the City in State District Court, and the suit NHLC will presumably file in Federal Court. In addition, the FTA and the City will be vulnerable to the suit that we will file in Federal Court over the deficiencies in those processes governed by the National Environmental Policy Act, and related environmental statutes.
Second, is the uncertainty of the federal funding. Having just returned from Washington DC we can say with some familiarity that the Honolulu rail Project is regarded by the new Republican House as the lowest of low hanging fruit. The $5.5 billion “Train to Nowhere” (see video below) is not considered by many in the House to be worthy of federal construction subsidies totaling $1.85 billion — $1.55 billion in New Starts funding and $300 million in 5307 funds. Bear in mind that most of the current House majority is reviewing spending with one question in mind, “Is this expenditure necessary to save America from financial disaster?” The Project is highly likely to have its New Starts funding either cut significantly to say, $500 million or less, or eliminated altogether.
Third, the City Council has yet to be heard from on their approval of construction expenditures. Three councilmembers who appear to approve of the rail project, Ikaika Anderson, Stanley Chang and Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, represent council districts whose voters are firmly opposed to it. If they have any intent of reelection they should be concerned about approving its construction. On the other hand, if they approve rail’s construction, by the time of the next election voters will be feeling the full brunt of the train’s construction turmoil and the cost overruns will be rolling out. It will not be a good time to run for reelection.
We have volunteers working on the legal issue and lobbying Congress. We now need volunteers to educate councilmembers on the environmental and fiscal dangers of the current rail project.
It is now time for those who have been standing on the sidelines to get involved. There is much that you can do. You can visit, call or fax your councilmember, or you can write letters to the editor. Whatever it is, do something.
February 5, 2011.
Follow the route of "The train from nowhere:
This video is the first three minutes of a helicopter flyover of the first half of the rail route. Note that the first few miles are in fields, some of which are still formally designated "Agricultural." Unlike other elevated heavy rail line, note the low density of this first half of the route.
January 18, 2011.
Federal judges opposition to rail route may be a problem:
From comments made to us today it appears that few people were aware that all of our Hawaii Federal Judges and Judge Magistrates, with the exception of Judge David Ezra, who "recused himself from consideration of this issue," signed a petition to "strongly voice our opposition to the proposed route of the Honolulu Transit System. The petition is here.
It raises the question of who hears any lawsuit filed against the FTA filed in Hawaii Federal Courts.
City posts the FTA Record of Decision:
This morning the City posted the Record of Decision (ROD) document together with the signed Programmatic Agreement on its website. Go to http://www.honolulutransit.com/library/ and click on the "ROD" tab.
The ROD authorizes the City to relocate "utilities affected by the Project," but also underlines the statement by FTA that, "No other Project action has pre-award authorization at time. It means that the may not begin construction of the rail line itself without further approvals from the FTA, which one must assume, means the FTA must issue a "Letter of No Prejudice." See our January 14 entry below.
January 18, 2011.
FTA issues Record of Decision:
Nobody has yet seen the actual Record of Decision. What it contains will tell us a great deal about what the City can actually do. Hopefully we will see what it says later today. Until then we only have the City's propaganda release to rely on, so to speak. Don't believe the City's publicity until we see the Record of Decision. See our "Where does the rail project stand today" above.
January 17, 2011.
Food for thought: $220,000 per new transit rider:
The table below from the Final EIS shows "Daily Person Transit Trips" forecasts for 2030 for both the No-Build Alternative (do nothing) and building the rail project. They are 205,400 for No-Build and 255,500 for rail/bus combined, which amounts to an increase of 50,100 trips. If we divide this number by two, we get 25,050 round trips, which is a good approximation of increases in people taking round trips.
If we now divide the 25,500 new people taking daily transit trips into the $5.5 billion for the capital cost for rail it results in $220,000 per new person.
January 16, 2011.
A reminder to the City Administration:
On September 20, 2004, the Federal Transit Administration wrote to the City informing them that the Record of Decision finalizing and approving the environmental process for the City's Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) project had been rescinded. This event took place one year four months after the FTA had approved the Final EIS for the BRT, and one year after the FTA had approved the Record of Decision.
The FTA cited as its reasons, among other issues, the City's beginning construction before acquiring a Letter of No Prejudice from the FTA allowing it to spend City funds before being given federal funds.
Unlike the present situation where no federal funds have yet been appropriated for construction of the rail line, federal funds had already been appropriated for the BRT program.
The reason we bring this to the City's attention is Mayor Carlisle's comment that he was ready to begin construction in March. He may be referring to relocation of utilities, which is allowed after entry into Preliminary Engineering, but he is not allowed to begin construction on the rail line itself before being granted a Letter of No Prejudice as is clear from the entry below and the December 31, 2009 letter from FTA Administrator Rogoff to Mayor Hannemann.
January 14, 2011.
To begin the rail project it must be close to the FFGA and have an LONP:
To clarify a point we made earlier in the year, DTS Director Yoshioka stated at a Council hearing on April 8, this year that, "any type of letter of No Prejudice would be associated when we go for a Full Funding Grant Agreement."
The following excerpt from Councilmember Romy Cachola's report on councilmembers' visit with FTA Administrator Rogoff concurs with Yoshioka's statement. It is as follows:
"The burial grounds issue still needs to be addressed and the Programmatic Agreement signed.
"Councilmember Ann Kobayashi pointed out that a City ordinance affecting mauka/makai viewplanes also needs to be addressed.
"The FTA stated that ridership will be a crucial factor in the success of Honolulu’s transit project and is reviewing the viability and accuracy of ridership projections provided in the Draft EIS.
"There are also concerns by the FTA regarding how robust GE tax collections will be in determining the viability of the project’s overall financing plan. FTA officials said that they cannot bank on an extension of the GE tax collection beyond 2022 or an increase in the GE tax from half a percent to a full percent. FTA stated that they will have to rely on the current financial plan presented by the City.
"The following are still needed to be satisfied, aside from the Final EIS
• "The Record of Decision (ROD)
• "Final Design
• "Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) between the City and FTA. No construction shall be done until the FFGA is signed, except for portions of the project to be constructed after receiving a Letter of No Prejudice (LONP). The City can only work on portions of the project as spelled out in the LONP.
• "As for the authorization for a bond float ($917 million in FY 2009 and a proposed $1.5 billion this year, or a total of $2.417 billion), the FTA stated that it will analyze the viability of the City’s financial plan, which will include the bond floats’ debt service."
January 11, 2011.
Here are two meetings to discuss the IMG/CB Richard Ellis Report on rail finances:
The first is the City Council Transportation Committee, which will hold a hearing tomorrow Wednesday at 1:00 PM in the City Council Committee Room to discuss he recent Governor’s Report by IMG Group and CB Richard Ellis. The Committee will allow testimony from the public limited to three minutes per person. The City Administration will present their rebuttal to the Report. We understand that the authors of the Report were not invited.
The second meeting is one presented by the League of Women Voters of Honolulu, which will sponsor a forum on the rail financial report commissioned by Gov. Lingle. The League believes that the report, which cost us taxpayers $350,000, is not well understood by the public. The forum's purpose is to inform the public of the financial aspect of Honolulu's rail project. It is neither pro- nor anti-rail.
The free forum takes place this Saturday, January 15, at the Washington Intermediate School cafeteria on King St. and Punahou Streets, starting at 10:00 am.
On the panel will be:
Moderating the forum will be author and film-maker Tom Coffman and Pearl Johnson, chair of the planning committee of the League of Women Voters of Honolulu. For further info about the forum contact Pearl Johnson at 531-7448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.