Offering cost-effective ways to reduce traffic congestion in Honolulu
October 26, 2009.
The MisState of the Rail
Last night the Mayor gave his State of the Rail speech on two channels in prime time. It was all rather strange with the Mayor attempting to rally the troops with a "done deal" message. However, the two main features of his speech were that the environmental process was being delayed “for a month or more,” and a plea to the Governor that she sign off on the Environmental Impact Statement.
As the Advertiser headlined, Honolulu mayor willing to delay start of rail project, which was rather comical seeing that he had no choice as some of the required signatories have been refusing to sign off on the necessary documents.
The events surrounding railtransit during the last few days have created a great deal of confusion.
First, we have to understand that there are many other players in the environmental process than just the City and the FTA. And there are other hurdles than just the EIS; the ones creating the current impasse are what is known as the Section 106 process and also the 4(f) process.
These processes cover protection of all the historical, cultural, archeological and recreational resources of a community. Essentially, the City has not done its homework in this area and it may lead to a considerable delay in the completion of the project.
This weekend we will post a more detailed account of the situation together with all the relevant documents.
October 26, 2009.
Podcast of Prevedouros and Slater now online:
Dr. Panos Prevedouros and Cliff Slater became co-hosts for the Sunday morning Carroll Cox Show on October 11. The podcast is now available.
Steal-on-Steal hits environmental roadblock:
Events in the next few days will determine whether the rail transit project has hit a small pothole or a roadblock. On the 22nd the National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote to the city with their concerns about the City's handling of environmental issues. This came at the same time that the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation refused to sign off on the "Programmatic Agreement" that is necessary for the Final EIS to be approved.
We also understand that the National Park Service, The Historic Hawaii Foundation, the Oahu Island Burial Council and many others are balking at signing off.
There should be more information forthcoming at the City Transportation Committee Meeting at 2:30 PM today.
October 21, 2009.
City "awards" $483 mm contract for first phase of rail:
The City announced today that Kiewit-Pacific won the bid to build the first six miles of the rail line, excluding the stations.
The announcement did not include the conditions that must be in place before Kiewit can begin the work. Among these will be the Governor's and FTA's acceptance of the Final EIS, the issuance of the FTA's Record of Decision (ROD) and the issuance by FTA of the Letters of No Prejudice (LONP) allowing the City to spend local money before receiving the federal funds.
Mayor Harris began work on the 2003 Bus/Rapid Transit program before receiving an LONP and FTA rescinded the ROD and withdrew federal funding for the project.
The City said that the bid came in $90 million below estimates but it appeared to forget that the estimates are for the completed project after all the extra change orders are in.
"Hannemann's dream could become nightmare":
By Richard Borreca in today's Star-Bulletin, here in its entirety:
"All the indications are that Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann is circling Dec. 6, 2010, as the day he becomes governor -- but he may want to keep the Wite-Out close at hand.
"The last two years of a mayor's term are rarely the best or the most popular, but Hannemann is going out of his way to leave City Hall at a scary time.
"In his calm, sober manner, Hannemann managed early in his first term to get either agreement or at least no rejection to raising the state's general excise tax on Oahu to build Hawaii's most ambitious construction project: the train line from Kapolei to Ala Moana.
"In a state where relocating a traffic signal can become front-page news, Hannemann's handiwork -- first at the Legislature, then with the Lingle administration, then the City Council and finally the general public -- has been something of a marathon political tap dance.
"That was just the beginning. Now he's promising a December groundbreaking and then full speed ahead through his campaign for governor next year. The construction schedule presumes work will go on.
"Hannemann must dream of TV pictures of armies of local construction workers building a solution to Oahu's traffic nightmare.
"His nightmares must be of TV crews broadcasting live reports from abandoned work sites, closed because the city ran out of money; angry native Hawaiian pickets protesting the rail plowing through burials; sobbing widows evicted as the city takes their land; and the unenviable montage of Kailua and Hawaii Kai taxpayers decrying the whole project.
"If the mayor's train is a potentially risky business, it is nothing compared to the city's looming deficit, already estimated at more than $120 million.
"The city raised fees this year, but the big budget adjustment will come next year because Hannemann and the City Council already made the easy cuts.
"Next up will be property tax increases.
"The mayor also will be faced with furloughing city workers and perhaps laying some off.
"The grim financial picture now showing at the state Capitol is about to move across the street to Honolulu Hale.
"Mufi Hannemann will be on stage either as mayor or as a candidate for governor -- and the audience may not be cheering.
Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org."
October 13, 2009.
Rail moves one step closer to the courtroom:
Yesterday Senator Daniel Inouye announced that the Federal Transit Administration has granted the City permission to enter the Preliminary Engineering phase of the New Starts process.
The next hurdles are the FTA’s and Governor Lingle’s acceptance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and its subsequent publication. Given the extensive legal deficiencies that we enumerated in our formal comments on the Draft EIS together with the opposition of ALL Hawaii’s environmental organizations to elevated rail through our city, it is difficult to see how the project can be approved by FTA as “the environmentally preferable alternative.”
"The environmentally preferable alternative is the alternative that will promote the national environmental policy as expressed in NEPA's Section 101. Ordinarily, this means the alternative that causes the least damage to the biological and physical environment; it also means the alternative which best protects, preserves, and enhances historic, cultural, and natural resources." [http://ceq.hss.doe.gov/nepa/regs/40/1-10.HTM]
Normally the FTA would not approve such a legally deficient project but we understand that enormous pressure is being applied by Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office. He chairs the U.S. Senate and since he has significant influence over the FTA’s own budget, the legal niceties may be required to take a back seat.
“The [Appropriations] Committee, chaired by Daniel K Inouye (D-Hawaii), writes the legislation that allocates federal funds to the numerous government agencies, departments, and organizations on an annual basis.” Senate Appropriations Committee website.
In short, we believe that the FTA has decided to take the easy way out from under Sen. Inouye’s pressure and let the federal courts decide the issue.
That time will come about five weeks after the FTA publishes the Final EIS when they will issue their Record of Decision declaring that the City has completed the National Environmental Protection Act requirements.
At this point the courts usually consider the matter “ripe” for the FTA to be legally challenged on their decision.
October 1, 2009.
City’s new financial plan is little different than the earlier plan
Yesterday we received the City’s latest financial plan through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request we made to the FTA in August. Apparently the Advertiser must have also made a FOIA request because they reported on it in this morning's paper.
Alert readers may remember that we revealed on August 21(see below), through another FOIA release, that the City’s May 1 financial plan forecast was significantly different from the picture the Hannemann administration had been painting.
We released the May 1 Plan to the Honolulu Advertiser and they wrote a story on it on August 20 (see below).
The City’s May 1 Plan had projected a $520 million shortfall in GE tax collections at the same time the City was telling the City Council and the newspapers that any short term shortfalls would be covered by increases in the out years. It also showed that the Hannemann Administration was planning to raid $300 million in federal bus funds to shore up their shaky financial plan.
The City responded by saying that the Advertiser story was “misleading and irresponsible” and that the May 1 was a “draft” report and now obsolete. It may have been obsolete but only because the FTA rejected it; it was certainly not a “draft.” A draft report always says clearly on the cover that it is a “draft.” The May 1 Plan is titled, Financial Plan For Entry Into Preliminary Engineering Submittal.
Finally, we now have the Hannemann Administration’s latest plan. It has the same title as the May 1 Plan; the only change on the cover page is the date: May 2009, updated August 2009.
The principal changes are that the Hannemann Administration projects collecting $200 million more in GE taxes than the May 1 Plan but that is offset by a forecast increase of the same amount in Capital Costs.
Most importantly, they still project using $300 million in federal funds formerly set aside for bus related expenditures. This means that should the FTA approve this approach, the City will have to either significantly shrink bus operations or replace the bus funds from the General Fund, which is to say, with property taxes.
The other change is an increase in projected operating subsidies to $4.726 billion through 2030. Operating subsidies will be funded by the City General Fund, which is to say, again, with property taxes.
In summary, our comments on the latest plan are not significantly different than the “misleading and irresponsible” comments made about the May 1 Plan, about which the Hannemann Administration complained so loudly.
September 29, 2009.
Advertiser reveals city spending promoting rail transit
Today's headline in the Advertiser is "Honolulu rail's PR effort costs $5.6 million: More than half spent since June 2008 on public education."
That means that the City spent something like $3 million promoting rail with all manner of lies and misrepresentations, which we carefully documented. For the details of the lies go to our "Draft EIS Comments" tab to the left and review these two sections:
In additions to the City's expenditures, other rail supporters, Go Rail Go, Support Rail Transit, and the Carpenters Union, between them spent a total of $1.1 million promoting rail during the run up to the November 4 referendum.
That is a grand total of $4,100,000 spent by the City, and special interests, versus $60,000 spent by Honolulutraffic.com and Stop Rail Now. This means that we were outspent by nearly 100 to 1 and yet we only lost the referendum by 52.6% to 47.4%.
September 14, 2009.
Where do matters stand with the rail project?
Since we are frequently asked this question we thought it timely to deal with it in some detail. Here are the hurdles that the Hannemann Administration has to overcome if it is to succeed in building the East Kapolei to Waipahu segment of the rail line.
1. Getting permission to enter into Preliminary Engineering.
2. Gaining acceptance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
3. Achieving a two-thirds City Council approval of a billion dollar bond issue.
4. Getting the FTA’s Record of Decision certifying completion of the EIS process.
5. Successfully countering possible legal action.
1. Getting permission to enter into Preliminary Engineering (PE):
On June 16 the City submitted a Financial Plan, dated May 1, 2009, to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as part of its formal application to enter Preliminary Engineering, which is the next phase of the FTA process. It was a completed plan, not a draft as the City claims. You do not submit a draft in a formal application. And even if it was a draft, it would have clearly said so on the document; it did not.
Subsequently the City has submitted a revised financial plan for PE entry about three weeks ago for the obvious reason that the FTA found the May 1 Plan unacceptable. Most probably it was because the financial plan was unsatisfactory. It showed that the GE Tax collections were forecast to be $520 million less than the City had forecast in the Draft EIS.
It is difficult to see how the City is going to be able to make up the GE tax collection projected shortfall. There have been two forecasts by the Council on Revenues (COR) since the May 1 Plan was written and each one showed further reductions in forecast revenues.
In addition, the City did not even use the COR’s forecast through 2015 but instead used a forecast by Parsons Brinckerhoff that did not mention the Council on Revenues. It would be an understatement to say that it is tainted.
As we have shown before on our website, had the City used the COR forecast they would be showing a shortfall of over $900 million instead of the $520 million shortfall they admit to in the May 1 plan. It is difficult to see how the Hannemann Administration is going to make up the shortfall with raising or extending taxes and that appears to have no chance of succeeding.
2. Gaining acceptance of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS)
Both the FTA and Governor Lingle have to approve the Final EIS. Given the extensive legal deficiencies that we enumerated in our formal comments on the Draft EIS together with those of others such as the Environmental Protection Agency, every single Hawaii Federal Judge, the U.S. General Services Administration, it is difficult to see how that can be approved by the FTA. Normally that would be the case but we understand that enormous pressure is being applied by Sen. Daniel Inouye’s office and he does, after all, also control the FTA’s own budget; the legal niceties may be required to take a back seat.
But Governor Lingle also has to approve the FEIS and she should have serious concerns about how the financing of the project may impact State finances. The financial plan assumes that the project is going to come in on budget given a billion dollars of contingency — a little under 20 percent. However, the average cost overrun of rail projects has been 40 percent according to the FTA’s own studies. The last U.S. elevated heavy rail project was the San Juan Tren Urbano, which came in 113 percent over projected costs. Cost overruns of anything close to such magnitude would spill over into state finances.
4. Getting the FTA’s Record of Decision certifying completion of the EIS process.
It is to be expected that if the FTA and Governor Lingle approve the FEIS that the Record of Decision (ROD) would be a formality and be produced within 30 days of the FEIS being issued.
4. Achieving a two-thirds City Council approval of a billion dollar bond issue.
After the FTA issues the ROD, the billion dollar bond issue necessary to build the first 6-mile section of the rail line from East Kapolei to Waipahu will have to be approved by a 6-3 margin of the City Council. This may well be difficult especially when the voters understand that a ROD is no guarantee of federal funding; it only acknowledges completion of the environmental process and has little to do with the federal funding.
“Neither the FEIS nor this Record of Decision (ROD) constitutes an FTA commitment to provide financial assistance for construction of the project.”
Councilmembers and their constituents must weigh the risk of spending a billion dollars on a useless 6-mile segment with absolutely no assurance of federal funding for the balance.
5. Successfully countering possible legal action.
In the event that the Hannemann Administration is able to successfully negotiate the foregoing hurdles the indications are that someone will take legal action against the elevated rail project. We have been told that the Draft EIS is a legally deficient document and to the best of our knowledge, what is deficient in the Draft EIS has not so far been remedied.
The support for rail transit is different since the last time it was proposed in 1992. The Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and a few individual businesses were openly in support of rail. In fact, the principal champion outside of City Hall was Gerald Czarnecki, CEO of the then HonFed Bank (subsequently Bank of America Hawaii) together with Lex Brodie.
Today, neither the Chamber of Commerce nor the Business Roundtable has been heard from at City Council hearings for years. And there is not a single businessperson out front on the rail issue.
Instead we find that significant objections have come to light since the referendum on rail at the time of the general election last November.
It is instructive to remember that the 1982 rail project, the 1992 rail project, and the 2003 BRT project, were “DONE DEALS” up to the end when they suddenly became “UNDONE DEALS.” This current project has all the earmarks of becoming the latter soon.
For a printable version of this entry download the pdf version.
September 2, 2009.
Star-Bulletin editorial: “Opposition grows in Ewa":
Today's editorial in the Star-Bulletin makes it quite clear that the Ho'opili development is not going to happen — ever.
What has never been made clear before is that the vacant land area from Waipahu to Kapolei is described by UH soil experts as the most valuable agricultural land in Hawaii and possibly the world.
The soil is a type of vertisol and while invaluable for agriculture it is unsuitable for housing because "the shrinking and swelling of vertisols can damage buildings and roads, leading to extensive subsidence" as Wikipedia describes it.
The UH soil experts discussed recently at the Capitol how this valuable topsoil must be removed and replaced with coral or other stable material for the land to be suitable for buildings and streets. This explanation of how our best agricultural land is 'raped' for housing does not make for good PR in future hearings.
In addition, the folks in the Leeward area, who have been consistently lied to by the Hannemann Administration about rail's beneficial effects on traffic congestion, seem now to have caught on.
They have begun to understand that the addition of the 30,000 homes in the Ewa Plain, already zoned and ready for construction, plus the 12,000 homes slated for Ho'opili would totally overwhelm any beneficial effects on traffic of the proposed rail line. The Hannemann Administration's projected traffic increases along the H-1 Corridor clearly shows that. (See Draft EIS, tables 3-12 & 3-20.)
August 31, 2009.
Star-Bulletin: “City touts ‘bike friendliness’ of rail”:
As part of its ongoing and endless spin program, the Hannemann Administration released the Draft of a bike plan for Honolulu a few days ago, presumably as a tactic to get cyclists to support the rail plan.
The Star-Bulletin story yesterday tells us that, “Bicycling enthusiasts see the city's proposed rail project as a way to get more people out of cars and onto bikes. So does the city.”
The Plan itself says, “The O‘ahu Bike Plan provides a strategy for better integrating bicycling into the City and County of Honolulu’s (“City’s”) transportation system ... There is great potential for bicycles to become a significant transportation mode for O‘ahu and this Plan provides a guide for becoming a bicycle-friendly community” (p. 1-1).
However, what the Hannemann Administration is not telling cyclists and other readers of the plan is that bikes will not be allowed on the trains during the critical six to eight hours of peak train travel. For that information you have to read the Draft EIS, p. 3-35.
Which brings us to a rule we follow: If a City planning document is one that does not have to be submitted to the federal government, such as the Bike Plan, read it for the omissions. These are such things as the major impact of rail’s 6’ to 10’ diameter supporting piers on ground level traffic including cyclists, and that rush hour accommodation of bikes is not being contemplated, neither of which are discussed in the Bike Plan but are in the federally reviewed Draft EIS.
August 28, 2009.
The City is spinning the news again:
Yesterday the State's Council on Revenues forecast that tax collections for fiscal year 2010 (the current year) will be 1.5 percent less than they had forecast in May of this year. They increased their forecast for the following year from 5.6 percent to 6.5 percent. For the combined two years that will be 0.7 percent decrease from the May 2009 forecast.
This is, in its totality, how the City spun this news:
"NEW REPORT POSITIVE FOR LONG-TERM RAIL FUNDING — The new 5-year tax revenue forecast from the state Council on Revenues is encouraging. It is a positive long-term outlook on Hawaii’s economy. Economic recovery will begin Fiscal Year 2011, stated the Council, with tax revenues up 6.5 percent. Tax revenues will continue to rise through Fiscal Year 2015, according to the Council.
"The Honolulu Rail Transit Project utilizes revenues from the General Excise and Use Tax (GET) surcharge over a 16-year period to fund the City’s portion of rail transit construction. As the economy recovers, GET surcharge revenues will rise."
OUR COMMENT: First, the Hannemann Administration omits to mention that the Council on Revenues reduced its forecast for the current fiscal year by 1.5 percent. And while the COR increased the second year forecast by 0.9 percent, their aggregate forecast for the two years declined by one percent. As for the rest of the forecast the COR does not release it until September 10. See the posting immediately below for more details.
August 27, 2009.
The $520 million tax collection shortfall is still understated:
We have detailed why the tax collections will likely be even less than the shows in its May 1 Plan; our analysis, which we show in detail in a separate document, estimates that it will be a further $433 million short for a total of $953 million less than forecast in the Draft EIS.
Last Sunday’s Advertiser story, “City's financing options for $5.3B Oahu rail system may be limited,” essentially demolished what the City had presented as “Other opportunities for the capital plan.” For example, the idea of getting significant contributions from the state was literally laughed at by state officials who are beset with financial problems themselves.
It is going to be interesting to see how the City attempts to dig itself out of this problem.
August 21, 2009.
Advertiser: "City blasted on rail report":
"Officials say keeping deficit from public fosters lack of confidence in transit project"
The Advertiser reported that, "City transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka yesterday faced mounting criticism over the city's decision to withhold an unfavorable financial report on Honolulu's planned commuter rail project from the City Council and the public."
City responds to yesterday's stories:
The City made a formal response to yesterday's stories, which the Advertiser printed in full. it is well worth reading because it is such nonsense.
In defending themselves the Hannemann Administration once again refers to the May 1 Plan as a Draft Report. It is absolutely not; it is a full report submitted as part of an application to go into the next phase of the environmental process and nowhere does it say it is a draft. On the other hand, another report the FTA sent us is an August 21, 2008 report which says quite clearly that it is a DRAFT report.
Second, the Administration says that "the opponents include clear vested interests that depend on freeways and the use of private transportation for their profits, such as some taxi and tour bus companies and auto dealers." Remember the Mayor's tirade last year about us being funded by Texas Beauty Queens bringing in suitcases of cash from oil and chemical companies? It is more of that kind of thing.
The fact is that Dr. Richard Ubersax and Cliff Slater collaborated on getting the FOIA materials, which were passed along to the media and elected officials together with a News Release that was our take on the salient features of the story. Cliff and Richard are both retired with no financial interest in any of such companies and with no financial support from them either.
Third, in trying to deny the way the misled the Council and the media, the Hannemann Administration says, "Yoshioka did not suggest that there was no GET surcharge revenue projection shortfall." More nonsense; both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin had stories of Yoshioka saying that while the City GE tax revenues might be short for a couple of years, the total projection would be made up by the time the tax expired. This at a time when the Mayor was presenting the May 1 Plan to the FTA Administrator showing revenues would be $520 million short.
Fourth, the Administration says that, "An updated plan will be included in the Final Environmental Impact Statement that should be released in about one month." Do not hold your breath; the City has yet to be granted permission to go into Preliminary Engineering and since they say they gave the FTA an updated financial plan last week, presumedly an update in support of their entry into PE, it is going to be at least a month away to go into PE and then the FEIS a month or two after that — maybe. Stay tuned; nothing is going smoothly now.
Here are the relevant documents discussed in this furor:
August 20, 2009.
City admits funding is likely $520 million short:
Sean Hao in today's Advertiser covers the story well. Briefly, the City has been lying about not having an updated financial plan. They also lied to the Advertiser and the Council saying that while GE Tax revenues might be short in the first couple of years they would make up the difference in later years.
At the same time they said that they were submitting a financial plan to the FTA showing tax collections would likely be $520 million short.
The Advertiser reported the following:
"Toru Hamayasu, deputy director of the Honolulu Department of Transportation Services, said in an e-mail yesterday that the May 1 report was "an outdated and no longer accurate early draft financial plan." The city sent a new draft last week to the Federal Transit Authority and "we'll make it available when it's finalized," Hamayasu wrote.”
This is nonsense. The May 1 financial plan was not a draft but rather a formal financial plan submitted as part of its request to enter the next stage of the process, Preliminary Engineering, as the title of the document plainly says on its face, Financial Plan For Entry Into Preliminary Engineering Submittal.
Once more the City has been caught lying — one more in its endless litany of lies. This City Administration has done what we thought would have been impossible; they have made the Harris Administration appear virtuous in comparison.
August 16, 2009.
For four years we have been pounding away at this issue of relative cost and now — finally — today the Advertiser is on it. You may read the story but the chart says it all.
August 14, 2009.
BART employees to go on strike Monday:
Bay Area Rapid Transit District workers said they will begin a strike Monday morning, shutting down a transit system that carries more than 340,000 people daily, according to Pacific Business News.
BART workers want a wage increase reported to be 3 percent above the current average salary and benefits of $114,466. BART management wants to cut labor costs by $100 million over the next four years to help balance a $310 million deficit.
OPINION: We don't believe we have to comments on this story; it speaks for itself.
August 13, 2009.
U.S. Dept. of Energy releases 2009 Data Book:
The U.S. Department of Energy has just released their latest annual data book, the Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 28, 2009, which shows in the chart below the energy efficiencies for the various rail transit lines.
In the past they have not disaggregated the various rail systems but given an overall weighted average. This has been quite misleading since the New York subways are highly energy efficient, with a great deal of two-way traffic. In addition, they comprise over 60 percent of the entire nation's rail transit ridership.
Once disaggregated a different picture emerges. We find that only one-third of the lines shown below are more energy-efficient than the average automobile at 3,514 Btu per passenger-mile (page 2-15). And only 40 percent of these rail lines are more energy-efficient than the average transit bus at 4,315 Btu per passenger-mile.
The new Data Book says, "The energy intensity of light rail systems, measure in Btu per passenger mile varies greatly. The average of all light rail systems in 2007 is 7,605 Btu/passenger-mile." (page 2-17). However, it is best to ignore the worst four performers as being outliers and focus on San Diego to Pittsburgh. This will give a median energy usage of about 4,800 Btu per passenger-mile — and there's still no savings over the automobile or bus.
July 25, 2009.
Transportation Secretary: "the car may be a thing of the past:
On July 13 we linked to a video (see below) of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's speech to the National Press Club on his "livability initiative" in which he talks about "coercing people out of their cars." In a recent PBS interview he reiterated his beliefs about cars. Here are two excerpts:
"There are way too many people in automobiles and there are way too many automobiles. And so it has caused the kind of headaches and heartaches and backaches and every other kind of ache that you can think of for people who are driving around these cities today. And we’re going to change that. This administration is going to change that. Because this is the kind of change that people want."
"Whether it is talking to residents pushing sustainable development in the Bronx, smart growth in Denver, or a journalist in Portland whose beat is bicycling, Blueprint America finds a common theme: America’s love affair with the car may be a thing of the past."
LaHood should be forced to travel solely by public transportation for one week so that he could disabuse himself of how useful it is for busy working people. And since half our State Legislature has similar views maybe they should try doing the same thing.
July 24, 2009.
City releases new report reinforcing "a done deal":
The City says that the new Jacobs Report declares that the “FTA approves entering Preliminary Engineering.” In fact, The FTA has not approved anything as of now, it is just the City trying to reinforce the idea of a "done deal." As we have said before, all the past three major transit projects were at one time "done deals" all the way up to the point that they failed.
As we understand it, the Jacobs Report has been given to the Federal Transit Administration’s Region IX (some western states) who will work up a report on it with their recommendation and forward it to FTA’s headquarters in Washington DC. They in turn will make their decision.
However, we do anticipate that the FTA will in time approve the City’s entry into preliminary engineering it is just that they have not yet. If the FTA turns the City down it is more likely to be at later point in the game.
Some of the more interesting points in the Report are first, that it defines the rail system as “heavy” rail, which is something we have said all along and which the City has constantly refuted.
Second, the City now discusses getting a series of Letters of No Prejudice (LONPs) from the FTA, which is the first time they have mentioned it. An LONP is a formal letter that the FTA may issue at a City's request when the FTA is close to authorizing a federal contribution for a Project but has not quite completed the process; it essentially says that the City may go ahead and expend City Funds on a project without prejudicing the receipt of federal funds. The FTA rejected the 2003 BRT project because the City started work on the project with City funds without getting an LONP from the FTA.
The FTA does not normally allow Cities to jump the gun since it puts even more intense pressure on FTA to approve funding when they might be ready to refuse funding. An example might be that the City starts building the 6.5 mile Kapolei to Waipahu segment and then subsequently the FTA finds that the Project is not supported by the financial strength of the City and rejects the Project. The full wrath of our Congressional Delegation would then descend on the FTA threatening its funding and even its existence.
Up to now the City has said only that they would not begin construction until they received a Record of Decision (ROD), a point in time where the EIS process is complete. Now they seem to be saying that they are going to wait until they have the LONPs before they begin construction. We believe this is a more difficult hurdle than getting the ROD.
As for the Report itself, it is written by Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the major players in the rail transit game. To continue playing this game, it is necessary to write “reliable” reports. In short, in does not mean too much except what is revealed in the details of the Report.
Rail still has a long way to go:
Following are some of the hurdles that have to be overcome if the rail line is to start construction of the 6.5-mile Kapolei to Waipahu rail segment with City funds alone:
July 14, 2009.
Mel Webber's "The BART experience" now online:
Mel Webber, Chair Emeritus of the UC-Berkeley Urban and Regional Planning School, was an early planner and enthusiast for the San Francisco Bay Area's BART rapid transit project. As it opened fully in 1974 he quickly realized that it had been a mistake and wrote "The BART experience: What have we learned?"
His UC-Berkeley obituary reads in part, "Webber's conclusions that "BART had been an honest mistake" and that it had fallen far short of expectations in ridership, that its costs were excessive, that its route pattern was too rigid, and that its land use impacts were minimal have contributed to major debates and decisions about subsequent funding of heavy rail systems at the state and federal levels. Instead, he argued for a more cost-effective and flexible mix of transportation modes, including automobiles and express buses, as well as pricing strategies to reduce infrastructure investment."
July 13, 2009.
Obama Administration to "coerce people out of their cars":
Ron Utt of the Heritage Foundation covers the views of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in today's Tollroad News. He said, "Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood remarked in May that his livability initiative "is a way to coerce people out of their cars." When asked if this was government intrusion into people's lives, LaHood responded that "about everything we do around here is government intrusion in people's lives," a sentiment that would have certainly surprised the authors of the United States Constitution, a document whose major purpose was to restrain government.
"LaHood's endorsement of government coercion comes as no surprise to those who have been tracking the Obama Administration's incremental endorsements of the environmentalists' smart growth strategies to slow growth, crowd development, and deter automobile use. And with LaHood's most recent presentation, the Administration has formally embarked on an unprecedented and costly exercise in social engineering to alter the way Americans live and travel."
For the video of LaHood's speech to the National Press Club click here. His remarks about coercing people out of their cars and "livable communities" starts at 19 mins 20 secs and is four minutes long.
DC toll road to fund rail transit:
Today's Tollroad News tells us that, "Dulles Toll Road (DTR) toll rates will be nearly doubled by 2012 under a plan being considered by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) who want to use tolls and toll revenue bonds to finance just over half the cost of a $5.26 billion metro-rail line."
Doesn't that say it all? People are willing to pay enough on tollways such that they can make a profit whereas they will not pay enough to ride rail transit other than to cause huge subsidies.
July 9, 2009.
CATO's Randal O'Toole testifies before Congress:
Randal testified two days ago before the Senate Banking Committee, Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. The following are the first few paragraphs from his testimony, followed by links to the written testimony and video of the hearing:
"Urban transit is important for those who lack access to automobiles. But the history of the last four decades shows that transit cannot and will not play a significant role in saving energy or preventing climate change.
"Forty years ago, American cities were choked with air pollution, so Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970 and created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to administer the law. The EPA adopted two strategies to reduce pollution. First, it required automakers to make cars that polluted less. Second, it also encouraged cities to promote transit and adopt other policies aimed at getting people to drive less.
"Today, we know what worked and what did not. Automotive air pollution has declined by at least two-thirds since 1970. This entire decline was due to technological changes in automobiles. Far from responding to transit investments by reducing driving and taking transit more, Americans today drive far more than they did in 1970.
"As the late University of California (Irvine) economist Charles Lave demonstrated in the October, 1979 Atlantic Monthly, investing in transit fails to save energy or reduce air pollution for two reasons:
"• First, spending more money on transit does not significantly reduce driving.
"• Second, transit uses just about as much energy as cars, so even if we could persuade people to take transit it would not save energy." Full written testimony.
You may also view Randal's testimony. This link is for the entire hearing. Randal begins speaking at the 61 mins. 50 secs. point and ends seven minutes later.
Kam Schools/Bishop Estate Planning Director to speak on rail:
Kam Schools' comments on the Draft EIS were highly critical of the elevated rail transit plan. Now Mike Dang, Director of Planning for Kam Schools will speak to the Hawaii Economic Association on July 30. Given what they had to say in their DEIS comments one would think that this might be a very interesting talk. For details of the luncheon meeting, click here.
July 8, 2009.
Elect Ann Kobayashi for Councilmember:
There are three candidates in the race with any name recognition. Ann Kobayashi, Matt Matsunaga, and Heidi Bornhorst.
We have spoken to all three candidates and both Matsunaga and Bornhorst offered us the Mayor's current mantra about the voters having spoken. We point out to them that the voters in the district in which they are running voted in opposition to elevated rail but that seems to have little effect.
Ann Kobayashi has all along opposed elevated rail and so that makes it a no brainer — we unreservedly endorse Ann Kobayashi for Council.
Her website is www.annkobayashi.com where you can register to vote and get details of her fundraiser on July 16 at Washington Middle School from 5:30 - 7:00 PM.
Just a reminder about the construction years:
Below we quote directly from the Draft EIS, Ch. 3, page 46. (The John Pritchett cartoon, while vividly conveying the result of the lane closures enumerated below, is unfortunately not actually in the Draft EIS itself.)
"The following scenarios are anticipated:
− Off-peak closures—two lanes would be closed for each half-mile construction segment for foundation and column construction. If the alignment is along a roadway that is less than three lanes wide (e.g., Halekauwila Street), the road would be closed to non-local vehicular traffic during off-peak periods. If the street’s median is more than 8 feet wide (e.g., Farrington Highway in parts of Waipahu), closure of only two lanes may be possible.
− Peak closures—during peak travel periods, closure may be restricted to one or two lanes. If a street is only two lanes wide, efforts would be made to open one lane during peak periods, if necessary.
− Cross-streets—if cross-streets are at least 150 feet apart to allow space for the required equipment, the only restrictions on cross-streets could be turning movements onto the alignment road where lanes are closed. Access could be closed off-peak during erection of segments.
• Columns—lane closures would be required throughout the column construction process.
Lane closures similar to those assumed for column foundations are assumed for aboveground column construction.
• Guideway Structure—during construction of the guideway structure between the columns, lane closures would be required. However, if the active work area spans an intersection, the cross-street would be open (with possible turning restrictions) during peak hours but closed during off-peak hours. Lane closure could also be needed in the off-peak direction during delivery and erection of segments.
• Stations—lane closures would be required at all locations where stations would be constructed over a roadway. Some work would likely require complete road closures, and this would be scheduled for permitted night work."
OPINION: Just remember, construction will not take forever — just six or seven years. And when it is all finished traffic congestion will be worse than it is now. But they will tell you it is better and they'll be saying, "Now wasn't that worth the wait?"
City spin about traffic congestion continues
The Draft EIS is quite clear that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than it is today. The Draft EIS shows that "vehicle hours of delay" are currently 74,000 hours annually (p.1-20) and will be 82,000 hours (table 3-14) if we build the rail line. That is an 11 percent increase in hours of delay, which is to say, congestion.
Now out of nowhere DTS Director Yoshioka tells us at the recent Freeway and Tollway Conference that there will be only 75,000 hours of delay if we build rail. Where did that number come from? Who knows.
July 7, 2009.
2003 BRT showed more riders than current rail plans:
One of the more interesting comparisons that can be made from our archived FEISs (see below) is that the 2003 BRT program forecast 312,600 daily riders at a construction cost of $700 million versus the current rail line which forecasts 294,000 riders at a cost $5.5 billion. BRT shows more riders than rail at one-eighth of its cost. We continue to wonder why BRT was not evaluated properly in the Draft EIS.
More material added to "NEPA process docs" tab:
For those of our readers of a more obsessive nature, we now have, in addition to the current iteration of rail transit, the Final EISs for the 1982 rail line, the 1992 rail line and the 2003 Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) program.
We remind our readers that all of these programs were at one time "DONE DEALS" — and then something happened and they became "UNDONE DEALS."
The "NEPA process docs" tab is eight from the bottom in the list of tabs to the left.
July 5, 2009.
There are some scary people in government:
Our new Transportation Secretary discussed traffic and transportation issues with the Denver Post Editorial Board recently and their account of it should scare the life out of anyone. His views are quite similar to many of our Hawaii legislators who also must be hearing voices, which is why they are doing nothing about traffic congestion. Read the article but here are a few excerpts to intrigue you:
"Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood seems to think Americans are going to bike and walk their way out of congestion, when they aren't of course riding a train or a bus. In a meeting last week with The Denver Post editorial board, LaHood only briefly mentioned improvements to the roads and highways that the vast majority of us rely on to get around town and dug in on his theme even when I tried to goad him into giving ground.
"Do you really think it's realistic to think that bike paths and walkways and transit are the answer (to congestion)?" I queried as the meeting drew to a close.
"Absolutely," LaHood replied. "You know, it doesn't even make any difference if I think it does. The people do. . . . There were a lot of people out there today (at a bike path along C-470) and a lot of them were on bikes. And people like riding streetcars . . . ."
"I went to a bikers convention in D.C.," he added. "There were about 500 people there. Most of them ride their bike to work, to the grocery store, to doctor appointments . . . now maybe 500 doesn't seem like a lot to you but this is catching on with people."
"No, 500 in a region of millions doesn't seem like a lot. How odd that the nation's top transportation official would cite such a figure as a meaningful sign of the future.
"Bike paths are a wonderful amenity. I ride on them all the time. We should build more of them. But they will have almost no discernible effect in reducing congestion here or in most U.S. cities in years to come. Weather, commuting distances, short winter days, tight schedules and an aging population — among other factors — make that forecast an absolute lock."
Seattle Times: "Residents rally against light rail noise":
Today's Seattle Times carries the above headline to an article, which should be read in its entirety. Following are some excerpts from it:
"If it were up to her, Sharon Nakata would go spray WD-40 on the Sound Transit light-rail tracks herself.
"She says she just can't take the screeching, tearing, grating sound now grinding past the Tukwila neighborhood where she's lived for more than 60 years. Trains go by about every five minutes, 20 hours a day most days, on elevated tracks 140 feet away, and the noise sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard or a broken wheel on a grocery cart — but much louder — say some residents of the 90 homes located between East Marginal Way and Duwamish Park. And, they say, it's knocking down their property values.
"Sound Transit officials say the screeching noise was unexpected, and they're not sure how they'll fix it — or if they'll fix it at all. The noise level was within the federally approved range during a 2008 test run, and spokesman Bruce Gray says it might be bothering residents because they aren't used to it yet.
"It's not a noise we wanted to get used to," said Jennifer Haynes, who lives on South 116th Street. Haynes and eight other residents met recently and decided to compel Sound Transit to fix the noise."
OUR OPINION: You can listen to the City tell you that the modern light rail being built these days is not noisy or you can check on the facts.
"Planners Back BRT Over Light Rail for I-270 Corridor":
The above headline from the Washington Post, of July 1, 2009, is so unusual that we thought we would print it in its entirety with a short comment from us at the end.
"Montgomery County planners have recommended that a bus rapid transit system be built along the Interstate 270 corridor [northern approach to Washington DC], saying that the other choice, a light rail line, would be too expensive to win federal funding.
"The recommendation goes against the views of most Montgomery public officials and business groups. They have called for light rail as a more permanent investment in the rapidly growing and traffic-congested corridor between the Shady Grove Metro station and the Clarksburg area.
"The Montgomery Planning Board staff also called for I-270 to be widened with express lanes for carpools and toll-payers. The board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the staff report Monday before making recommendations to the county council. The council will make its recommendations to the Maryland Department of Transportation.
"State transit officials have said that a 14-mile bus rapid transit system would cost about $450 million to build and that light rail would cost $778 million. The highway widening is estimated to cost $3.8 billion.
"Planners said a bus rapid transit system would be more flexible than light rail because buses could leave "fixed guideways" to better serve neighborhoods."
OUR OPINION: Planners opposing elected officials is unexpected behavior by Honolulu standards. And planners preferring BRT on “HOT lanes” over light rail is something our planners might make note of.
Matt Matsunaga enters Council race saying "rail will help":
Former State Senator Matt Matsunaga filed his nomination papers, Thursday, for the City Council District 5 Special Election. He said he is entering the race because none of the other candidates have the best interests of the voters in mind.
The Honolulu attorney is the son of the late Spark Matsunaga who served in Congress and as a U.S. Senator. The total number of candidates for the District 5 Special Election is 14.
July 1, 2009.
Four great Advertiser columns from Jay Fidell:
Jay Fidell is an attorney and founder of Think Tech Hawaii with a real interest in technological solutions to problems. In the columns listed below he brings that technical bent to bear on the subject of traffic congestion and some low-cost solutions to reducing it.
The problem is that those Advertiser readers who do not read the business section may well not run into these columns but they are well worth reading. The third one down was written after he took a bus tour of the rail route with Cliff Slater and Panos Prevedouros and was awakened as to how environmentally awful rail would be.
June 02, 2008. "It shouldn't be that hard to ease our traffic woes."
August 24, 2008. "The engineering involved in bringing the rail project to fruition."
April 26, 2009. "A relatively cheap fix could reduce worsening traffic woes."
Finally the Tampa Expressway settles its lawsuit:
At the time of the Alternatives Analysis alert readers would remember that there was an argument over how much the 10-mile Expressway cost to construct. The City insisted that the $92 million additional cost caused by a sub-contractor's error should be added to the basic $300 million cost. The main parts of the lawsuits have now been settled for $82 million and there's more to come. Story from the Tampa Bay Tribune.