Offering cost-effective ways to reduce traffic congestion in Honolulu



date December 20, 2010.

Rail project’s ridership projection is highly improbable:

In recent discussions about whether the City will achieve its transit ridership projections (bus and rail), many are missing the main point. Transit ridership has for many years suffered a declining market share locally and nationally. Ridership increases are not keeping up with urban population growth.

For example, Honolulu bus ridership has remained flat to down since the mid-1980s despite a significant increase in population and a major increase in the number of buses in service.

For the rail project the City forecasts that O'ahu transit ridership (bus &rail) will by 2030 have increased from 6.0 percent of trips to 7.4 percent. That is an increase in market share.

However, no metro area with rail has ever increased their ridership percentage over any 20-year period even when the period included the building of its rail line.

The data showing the decline among commuters is from the journey-to-work census data for metro areas available every ten years. Check for yourself: Journey to Work Trends in the United States and its Major Metropolitan Areas, 1960-2000. FHWA.

In short, for the City to achieve its ridership projections it has to do what no other metro area has ever done -- increase its market share — with one exception; between 1980-2000 San Diego transit increased its share from 3.3 to 3.4 percent.

In summary, it means that if Honolulu transit (bus and rail combined) just maintained its market share, ridership in 2030 would be 20 percent less than what is being forecast. But that would not be the prudent forecast. We should determine the average decline in market share for Mainland metro areas with rail and go with that.

According to FHWA data on the chart below we should use a decline of something like 30 percent from our current market share. It would mean that even with rail our ridership will remain approximately the same despite increased transit service levels and population.

We do understand that this is tough to believe. However, that is what is happening on the Mainland in virtually every metro area. And please don't tell me again that Hawaii is different.


For further reading, see the Transportation Research Board’s Commuting in America III.  


date December 19, 2010.

It appears the new House of Representatives may be leaning our way:

Sam Staley wrote yesterday, Transit Faces Tough Road Ahead in U.S. Congress, on the Reason website about the difficulties that transit will have with funding in this new House of Representatives. Here's the first three paragraphs to whet your appetite:

"Incoming chair of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has released his appointments and the results probably didn't foster much hope among urban transit advocates. None of the Republican appointments represent major urban districts, which means urban transit proponents will have to negotiate creatively if they want to see their priorities implemented.

"Under the leadership of former Congressman Jim Oberstar, transit programs and pro-transit policy were on center stage. By their nature, these policies tended to be city-specific and urban centric. Thus, federal spending priorities shifted toward explicit support for urban areas through subsidies for their transit programs and promoting initiatives such as "livability."

"In contrast, the Republican controlled committee will likely shift discussions to transportation policy objectives that are more national in scope and impact. While members will not likely be hostile to the mobility challenges of large urban areas, a healthy dose of skepticism will probably become part of transportation policy discourse. Rather than taking the importance of urban transit and transportation initiatives as important on face value, they are more likely to ask where is the value added to the national transportation network and require these programs be more clearly aligned with national priorities and interests."


Bob Poole writes about "A Proliferation of HOT Lane Projects":

The following is from Bob Poole on what is happening with HOT lanes across the nation — but not here. Note that Honolulu is the only metro area with a proposal to build a new heavy rail line (page 7); it seems that everyone else is on the HOT lanes bandwagon. Here’s Bob’s take:

“More and more high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are being converted to high-occupancy/toll lanes around the country. In response to my article on the trend toward networks of HOT lanes (last month), several readers wrote in to be sure I was aware of recent and planned HOV-to-HOT conversions in their areas.

"Minneapolis last month saw the completion of its second such conversion, which now extends along 16 miles of I-35W. I knew about that one, but until recently was unaware of MnDOT’s plans for more such projects. A recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune identified I-35E between St. Paul and Little Canada as one likely possibility. Other near-term prospects are I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul, further stretches of I-35E and W, and Highway 36 between I-35W and I-35E. Longer-term, HOT lanes could be implemented on Highway 169, north Highway 77, and a long section of I-494 between Bloomington and Maple Grove. And yes, MnDOT is now thinking about a whole network of such lanes.

"Los Angeles, the nation’s most congested metro area, has a number of such projects in the planning stages, for possible implementation after the pilot projects now being implemented on the El Monte Freeway (I-10) and Harbor Freeway (I-110). In Los Angeles County, the LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority has recommended five candidates: I-105 between I-405 and I-605, I-405 from I-105 through the west side and across the San Fernando Valley to I-5, SR 91 from I-110 to the Orange County line, SR 57 from SR 60 to the Orange County line, and I-10 from I-605 to the San Bernardino County line. The Orange County Transportation Authority is studying HOT lanes for I-405 from SR 55 to I-605. And the Riverside County Transportation Authority is implementing an extension of the existing 91 Express Lanes from the Orange County line eastward to I-15. This is starting to look like the beginnings of a network.

"And the Georgia DOT is moving forward with plans to add HOT lanes to I-75 and I-575 outside the I-285 Perimeter freeway in Atlanta. Called North by Northwest, this megaproject is intended to be the Atlanta area’s first phase of a large HOT lanes network, whose second phase will be on the western portion of I-285 and a portion of I-20 west. GDOT also intends North by Northwest to be the first project implemented under its 2009 public-private partnership enabling legislation. That measure replaced a previous law under which only unsolicited proposals were allowed, which left GDOT in the secondary role of having to respond to projects not necessarily in its long-range plans. In addition, changes in leadership at GDOT created uncertainty within the private sector. The new law puts GDOT in the driver’s seat, and the agency prequalified three teams for North by Northwest in June. But the project still faces hurdles, among them the shift to a new governor, possible new faces on GDOT’s State Transportation Board, and a hole in the project’s financing plan, when an expected TIFIA loan did not come through last month.

"As I’ve written previously, HOV to HOT conversions are under way on all five of Houston’s existing HOV lanes. And the Washington State DOT is planning a 40-mile Eastside Corridor that would convert existing HOV lanes and add new HOT lanes on I-405 and SR 167, as part of a nearly $2 billion upgrade of that corridor."


It's déjà vu all over again on tax collections:

The numerically challenged may wish to avert their eyes from this table, but hang in there, it's worth it.

The first column is the record of actual state GE tax collections 1993-2002. The second column is the percentage difference between the dollars to the left of it and the dollars above. Thus, from 1,304 to 1,333 is a 2.2 percent increase. Fiscal years are from July to June.

The next two columns are the City's forecast of tax collections from the 1992 Final EIS , Table 6.4. The 1993 and 2003 fiscal years we ignore because they are only six month collections.

The next column simply subtracts the state actual annual percentage increase from that of the City's annual percentage forecast so that we can see how far off the City was.

For the last two columns we construct how far off the City was in the dollars they forecast. We start with the 1994 City forecast of $119.71 million and then increase it annually by the state's actual percentage increase in collections carried over from the second column. We find that instead of  collecting a total of $1,413.75 million as the City forecast we would only collect $1,190.63 million, a shortfall of $223 million. Allowing for inflation that would be a shortfall of $335 million in today's dollars.

However, even that understates the shortfall because the City did not actually increase the GE tax as was forecast. Had they actually increased the tax, the revenue collected would have been less. Elementary economics dictates that if you increase the price of anything you sell less of it.

So when the City and Parsons Brinckerhoff tells you that their forecasts are prudent and conservative just remember the historical record among all the other criticisms of their tax collection forecast for the current project.




date December 18, 2010.

Quote of the week:

Yesterday, Donna Wong, head of the environmental group Hawaii's Thousand Friends, criticized Governor Abercrombie's hasty approval of the Final EIS on Channel 4 KITV.

The governor's press secretary, Donalyn Dela Cruz, said the EIS got a very thorough review, first by the Lingle administration and then by Abercrombie’s staff. "An approved EIS doesn't mean there won't be impact -- it just means all the potential impacts have been studied."  

We can now all feel a lot better about that.


date December 17, 2010.

There is no chance of construction beginning in March:

There is a lot of loose talk about the mere signing of the Final EIS makes the rail project "a done deal." First there is the Programmatic Agreement on Historic properties and iwi kupuna that must be addressed, and then there is the matter of a Letter of No Prejudice.

Before construction can begin, the City has to obtain a Letter of No Prejudice from the FTA that will allow the use of City funds to construct rail before the FTA has actually committed to granting any federal funds. The reason that the FTA requires this is to ensure that cities do not jump the gun and subsequently put enormous political pressure on the FTA to fund what they may have found was an unsustainable project.

To have a chance at a Letter of No Prejudice the City has to have a significantly beefed up financial plan from the current plan that is too weak. The FTA wrote to the City in October 16, 2009, “Were this [Final EIS financial] plan submitted today in support of a request to advance the project into final design [the next phase], its weaknesses would likely cause FTA to deny the request.”

The FTA Administrator wrote to then Mayor Hannemann on December 31, 2009, “As noted in the Assessment and our letter of October 16, 2009 which approved the project into preliminary engineering, it is imperative that the current financial plan be strengthened to support future FTA project approval actions including entry into final design and any potential requests for a Letter of No Prejudice.”

We do not believe that without the State Legislature strengthening or extending the City’s GE Tax surcharge, or the City Council approving the use of General Funds, that there can be any way that the City’s financial plan can be improved sufficiently to meet the FTA’s requirements.


Abercrombie signs off on the Final EIS:

As expected, yesterday Governor Abercrombie "accepted" the Final EIS for the elevated heavy  rail line as conforming to the Hawaii Environmental statutes.

We expected that. What we did not expect is that he totally ignored that all of Hawaii's environmental organizations stand opposed to constructing an elevated rail along the waterfront and through Honolulu's historic districts. We had expected some acknowledgement of that fact and then some reference to the need for jobs, or that this would be for the greater good of the community, etc. There was none of that; he just dissed them.


date December 16, 2010.

Today's quote for your quiet enjoyment:

"I like roads. I like to move."

President Harry Truman, quoted by author Matthew Algeo in his new book, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure. A great book about a road trip that the President and his wife Bess took from Kansas City to New York and back in 1953 by themselves without benefit of anyone accompanying them, let alone the Secret Service. He and Bess stopped at motels and diners along the way and had a wonderful time. It was a different era.


John Pritchett knocks it out of the park again:

God bless you, John. What would we do without the likes of John Pritchett? Sometimes you can get somewhat frustrated with the games the City plays in furthering the chances of its heavy rail project and then along comes a Pritchett cartoon to put a smile on your face. You can visit all his wonderful cartoons at: Pritchettcartoons.com



date December 15, 2010.

Shapiro's Volcanic Ash covers City's "manipulations":

David Shapiro in today's Volcanic Ash column writes a great one on the rail finances. After reading the 135-page Governor's Report, Shapiro concludes that, "the analysis is measured in tone, with ample supporting data, and isn't the "anti-rail rant" that Mayor Peter Carlisle described in his own rant the day after the $350,000 study came out."

Read the column by selecting the link above.


date December 14, 2010.

Panos Prevedouros compares two heavy rail lines:  

Yesterday in Panos' blog in the transit section he published this table below, which is a very useful comparison of the Tren Urbano heavy rail line and the proposed Honolulu heavy rail line. As you can see it does not need any comments from us:


date December 11, 2010.

Think Tech's Jay Fidell writes on traffic; a call to arms:

In the Advertiser this past Tuesday Jay Fidell wrote, "The traffic honeymoon doesn't last forever," Here's the first few paragraphs:

"Our new mayor is, of course, still on his honeymoon, and he's entitled to that. But given the traffic congestion we still have, the honeymoon can’t last forever. We can and should expect him to do something about it, and soon.

"So far there’s no sign of any improvement and no word on what he will do about it. We have some of the worst congestion in the country, with thanks to Mufi Hannemann, who thought he could make us believe that rail would solve it all. That wasn’t and isn’t true.

"Like his predecessor, our new mayor has taken the front page about rail, without giving us any assurance he will also fix the traffic. If only we could hear less about rail and more about fixing the traffic, how happy and encouraged we would be.

"The honeymoon isn’t over, but so far the imbalance and the traffic continue unabated.


"We need modern solutions - timed lights, sensored intersections, overpasses, underpasses, HOT lanes. We’re desperate for these things. The technology is there, but we ignored it during the Hannemann years. Surely, we learned something and have higher expectations now."

We suggest you read the whole thing.


date December 10, 2010.

The Governor's Report on rail finances is a game changer:

We have modified our document, "Where does the rail project stand today?" by the addition of the following statement:

"The release of the Governor’s Report on rail finances authored by Infrastructure Management Group, Inc. (imggroup.com) and CB Richard Ellis (cbre.com), who are heavyweights in the financial consulting business, is a game changer.

"The reason is that while the City can successfully marginalize people like me, who are providing essentially the same message as the Report, to do the same with Washington DC professionals is a totally different matter.

"The FTA cannot ignore companies like these who win national awards recognizing them for their competence and objectivity. The Honolulu rail project goes before Congress this coming year since no federal New Starts funds have allocated so far to the project. Questions will be raised by the new budget cutting Republican congressional representatives and FTA will have to defend their position against that of these consultants. We believe FTA is going find a way to avoid such an eventuality."


date December 5, 2010.

The Mayor is completely wrong on both tax collections and ridership:

On Friday the Mayor said, "The prediction that there will be less money raised from the GET tax is wrong," and, in response to the statement that “The report also predicts ridership will be "substantially lower" than current projections," the Mayor said,“Model forecasting indicates that the more people who ride the TheBus, the more people will ride rail.”

What nonsense.

The FTA's Financial Oversight Management Contractor cast strong doubts that the city can meet its projection as has the FTA itself. Further the City itself agreed to retain an independent financial consultant to re-project City revenues. In a two-page brief that we suggest you read you will find the details. In addition we cover why the City is highly unlikely (read impossible) to meet its ridership forecasts.


date December 3, 2010.

A quick few excerpts from the Governor's transit report:

The report the Governor commissioned on the Rail Transit Project was performed by IMG, CB Richard Ellis and Tom Rubin. IMG and CB Richard Ellis are highly reputable national firms. Rubin's qualifications are also impressive (see below). The fact that he comes to the conclusion that buses are generally preferable to rail does not disqualify him. FTA Administrator Rogoff said much the same thing a few months ago. See the video of his speech on this issue at the May 22 post at http://www.honolulutraffic.com/

Rubin has Bachelors and Masters in Business Administration (BSBA, MBA), Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Management Accountant (CMA), Certified Management Consultant (CMC), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM ), Certified in Financial Management (CFM), Chief Financial Officer, Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District, Oakland, CA, 1995-1996 Chief Financial Officer, Southern California Rapid Transit District (now Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority), Los Angeles, CA, 1989-1994 Partner, Founder and Director, National Transit Industry Practice, Deloitte Haskins & Sells (now Deloitte & Touche, LLP), San Francisco and Washington, DC, 1974-1989

We mention these qualifications because the authorities will as usual want to vilify the messenger rather than address the message. The message is quite devastating and in some ways worse than what we have been saying. For example, they put the likely take for GE Tax collections, which the City has at $3.5 billion, at $2.7 billion, or $800 million less. Our latest assessment was $3.2 billion. However if you read the full report you will find it difficult to fault their logic. If you don't have time for the Report try our Quick Notes


Governor's transit report available here:

The Analysis and Evaluation of Honolulu's Proposed Rail Transit Project — Final Report.


date December 1, 2010.

Ten percent chance rail costs will go over $9.3 billion:

We have written a paper, "The probability of rail transit coming in on budget." Here are some excerpts from it to tempt you into reading the two pages.

"Based on what we had learned from the Federal Transit Administration’s assessment of the probability of the New Jersey tunnel’s final cost (see our November 2 post), we surmised that such probabilities may have also been calculated for the Honolulu rail transit project.

"We therefore submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to FTA for any documents that discussed this issue. We received the documents this past Saturday, which showed the FTA’s calculations of the probabilities of Honolulu reaching its projected costs. These are revealed in their chart below. The chart is based on a $5.1 billion construction cost, which excludes their anticipated $0.4 billion in financing costs.

"Basically, the FTA’s risk assessment process is based on the fact that at the Pre-Preliminary Engineering (Pre PE) stage all costs are preliminary. The costs are further refined in the Preliminary Engineering, the Final Design (FD), and in the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) stages. As projects progress through these stages to actual construction, more often than not there will be an increase in projected costs as may be seen from Table 2.

"Today, the Honolulu Project is midway between the Pre-Preliminary Engineering (Pre PE) and Final Design (FD) stages. The chart tells us that the FTA’s estimation of probabilities is as follows:

    • A 10 percent chance that the Project will come in under budget.

    • A 50 percent chance that the Project will come in under $7.2 billion.

    • A 90 percent probability that the Project will be built for less than $9.3 billion and, of course, a 10 percent chance that it will exceed that amount."

You will need to read the whole two pages to really understand FTA's logic.


"Honolulu rail project could hit state finances hard":

We wrote an op/'ed for the Honolulu Star Advertiser with the above title but forgot to link the footnoted version to this website.

It was written to basically warn Governor-elect Neil Abercrombie that the cost overruns on the rail project could severely impact state finances and why.

Read in conjunction with today's other post above, it is a scary scenario that warrants careful study.


date November 19, 2010.

Follow the red brick road:

Would this brick road paving machine have any affect on Honolulu as the World's Pothole Capital? Note the white bricks providing the lane striping. Click on the link to see the machine at work.



date November 18, 2010.

The rest of the story —  Charlotte light rail:

Many avid rail watchers will remember Ron Tober, head of Charlotte, North Carolina's light rail program, who came to Hawaii on the taxpayer's dollar to convince us what a wonderful thing rail was. He also told us that our project would come in on time and on budget.

We subsequently found that Charlotte's light rail had cost twice as much as the city had budgeted. Now from Charlotte's leading website we hear the rest of the story. Here are two paragraphs just to whet your appetite:

"As those taxpayers will soon see, operating costs were seriously re-misunderestimated -- again I think deliberately -- in 2007, by CATS chief executive Ron Tober, with some help from his friends at Wachovia. Before the transit tax referendum in November 2007, Tober and Wachovia execs who had reviewed CATS' plan promised that the half-cent sales tax would bring in enough to build and operate the system without further tax hikes. Last month, we learned that wasn't true for building it, as the city is now seeking funds to construct two rail lines and the street car.

"But what no one is talking about -- deliberately, I think -- is what it would cost to run the expanded system. Light rail requires massive subsidies to operate, far beyond what riders pay. But incredibly, with just one line up and running, CATS is currently struggling to pay operating costs and cutting light rail trips to save money. To make up the difference, they've even gone so far as to shut down bus service on some bus routes used by poor riders who can't afford cars."


date November 8, 2010.

UH Economists weigh in on rail on November 17:

We get the feeling, given their conclusions, that they may need a little support at this event. Please attend.


date November 2, 2010.

There's more we can learn from the New Jersey Tunnel:

There are some more lessons that we learn from the details now emerging about the cancellation of the multi-billion dollar New Jersey to New York train tunnel.

First, follow the trend line of the projected costs in the table below. At the Alternatives Analysis/MIS stage it was $4.3 billion and is now at $11 billion. It increased 45 percent from the Final EIS to the current projection at the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) stage. That is the equivalent of increasing our Final EIS projection of $5.5 billion to $8.0 billion.

Second, the Federal Transit Administration gave Governor Christie probability factors of achieving at or below the FTA projected costs.

Low-range $9.8 billion 10 percent

Mid-range $10.9 billion 40-50 percent

High-range $13.7 billion 83 percent.


Let’s apply those ranges to the projected costs of the Honolulu rail project in the Final EIS:


Low-range $4.9 billion 10 percent

Mid-range $5.5 billion 40-50 percent

High-range $6.9 billion 83 percent


That still means we (and New Jersey) would still have a 17 percent chance of going over the high-range cost of $6.9 billion.

This is telling you taxpayers that you should be afraid. Be very, very afraid.


( Table source )  

The percentage probabilities were in Gov. Christie’s speech. The latest FTA cost projections were released by Secretary LaHood in a press release.


Engineering News-Record has doubts about our rail project:

McGraw-Hill's Engineering News Record, "the bible of the construction industry," today covered New Jersey Governor Christie's final decision to terminate the Hudson tunnel project. In describing other large projects it said, "Other projects in doubt include a train system in Hawaii, high- speed rail lines in the Midwest and a highway tunnel to replace the earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle."

It did not elaborate.


date November 1, 2010.

Another look at why you should vote NO on the Transit Authority:

Today Civil Beat published our op/ed from which the following two paragraphs are excerpted. Please use the link and send the op/ed to your mailing list. Every little helps.

"In reality, what a Transit Authority will do is protect our elected councilmembers from accountability for the future rail calamities such as cost overruns and ridership shortfalls. And when the voters go ballistic over the additional traffic congestion caused by rail’s construction, their ire will have to be directed at the semi-autonomous, semi-anonymous Transit Authority since elected officials will not be found anywhere near it."

"A Transit Authority for “enhancing transparency and accountability”? Now we know they are kidding. In reality, the Transit Authority is to shield elected officials from being accountable. At least with the Council we can listen in to their actions on ‘Olelo. When did you last know about the goings on at the semi-autonomous, semi-anonymous City Board of Water Supply? We would love to listen in to hear how they justify allowing every precious drop of rain water to go downstream to the ocean through concrete culverts carefully designed to ensure that this pure mountain water never contaminates our aquifer — and then they beg us to use less water?"


date October 30, 2010.

City whines to FTA about not being informed of FOIA requests:

The following is an excerpt from the minutes of an FTA/City meeting at the end of 2009. We hear Director Yoshioka pleading for a warning if FTA is about to release material from FOIA requests. FTA’s Counsel, Renee Marler, essentially tells him that he would not have the problem if he only responded to requests at the local level. We have included the link so that we cannot be accused of taking the excerpt out of context.

    “Renee Marler (FTA), Regional Counsel, then discussed FTA [Federal Transit Administration] procedures for the release of documents related to the project. Ms. Marler stated that FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] and the Administration's policy of open government apply to all documents in FTA's control, unless there are compelling reasons not to release a document. Ms. Marler noted that she would address procedures for the review and release of documents under FOIA and appropriate handling of confidential or sensitive information with Corporation Counsel. In response to a City question, Ms. Marler noted that the FTA does not have a requirement to let the grantee [the City] know when a request has been received or when there is a release of documents related to the [rail] project. Mr. Yoshioka asked if the FTA could provide a "courtesy call" to inform the City of requests. Ms Marler noted that when requested, FTA has notified the City of the release of Project documents under FOIA. In particular, the City can receive a copy of Project-related documents released by FTA, if it files a FOIA request. Mr. Rogers stated that information requests typically are submitted first to the City and are only submitted to the FTA if the City does not honor the request. Mr. Hamayasu responded that they believe requests are made to FTA directly without contacting the City because they are more frequently granted. Ms. Marler added that these concerns are not unique, and the City should do what they can to respond to requests fully at the local level.”

Lessons to be learned from the New Jersey tunnel project:

Two days ago New Jersey Governor Christie made the final decision to cancel the $8.7 to $14 billion New York-New Jersey rail tunnel.

The official FTA forecast was $10 billion and the Governor’s Tunnel Advisory Committee forecast was $11-$14 billion. The project’s financing called for New Jersey to be on the hook for $3 billion plus any cost overruns over $8.7 billion.

There’s an old adage in the public works construction game that say that you can always tell the expert in the room; it is the one who predicts the project will take the longest and will cost the most.

Governor Christie is right in saying that the projected benefits do not outweigh the likely costs to New Jersey taxpayers. The benefits are supposedly to accrue to commuters from New Jersey to central Manhattan. However, the New York City job market is stagnant while New Jersey’s is growing rapidly. (Source)

Add to that the opportunity to increase access to lower Manhattan by partnering with Amtrak’s proposals for new tunnels at much lower cost to New Jersey taxpayers.

There are two issues of which Honolulu taxpayers should take note:

First, Governor Christie believes that his experts on cost forecasts are more believable than the FTA’s. Since the FTA has a record of accepting cost forecasts from proponents, which subsequently result in significant cost overruns, he is smart in using independent forecasts.

Second, Christie is taking into account that New York City has a stagnant job market but New Jersey’s is growing. That is why he is shifting New Jersey’s emphasis to statewide road and bridge repairs and new highway construction. Note that the current Hawai‘i state forecast for Honolulu is that the primary commuter market of people ages 20-64, will decline by 2030.


date October 25, 2010.

Another reason to oppose rail AND the Transit Authority:

In an article titled, "Portland's runaway debt train," Wendell Cox has revealed some interesting data from Tri-Met, the Portland area transit authority. Here are the opening paragraphs:

    "Tri-Met, the operator of Portland's (Oregon) bus and light rail system has been in the news lately, and in less than auspicious ways. For decades, the Portland area’s media – as well as much of the national press – has been filled with stories about the national model that Tri-Met has created, especially with its five light rail lines.

    "The reality is less impressive. After spending an extra $5 billion over the past quarter century, public transit's share of work trip travel in Portland is less than it was before. Moreover, the Portland has now become the 38th of the major metropolitan areas (over 1,000,000 population) in which more people work at home (such as telecommuting) than ride transit to work.

    "Tri-Met's more recent notoriety also reveals some serious concerns about financial management . Auditors recently finished their annual report, and it indicates that Tri-Met has run up some rather large bills that it may be hard-pressed to pay."

Cox then reveals that, in addition to its other problems, Tri-Met now has unfunded liabilities for pensions and other post-employee benefits that exceed a billions dollars. Unfunded pension liabilities are $260 million and the other benefits, $817 million.

Cox also shows us how Tri-Met, Portland's the three-county transit authority, puts its employees ahead of its customers with unjustifiable increases in salaries and benefits.

In our view, why should an unelected board of anonymous officials want to fight the transportation unions; these officials are not up for re-election. They  have nothing to lose.


date October 15, 2010.

Civil Beat —  The five best reasons to oppose the rail project:

Civil Beat is currently running a series of stories examining the decision to build a rail transit line in Honolulu. One of the questions they asked both us and the City was, "What are the five best reasons to support or oppose the project? Please explain each reason."

You can view the responses online at www.civilbeat.com or click on the following for our full response including images and footnotes.

Our five best reasons to oppose the project are a) the Final EIS is not credible, b) the elevated railway costs are too high for a city our size, c) a lack of benefits accruing from it, d) the visual and noise blight that would result, and e) building rail precludes spending on other alternatives.

These five reasons are each detailed in our response.


date October 14, 2010.

Star-Advertiser— "Like rail, TOD won't live up to promises":

Today's Advertiser carries an op/ed by Cliff Slater on Transit Oriented Development. Following are the first two paragraphs; go to the link for the complete op/ed including footnotes.

"In the Advertiser last April we wrote “Rail just another ‘investment’ that won’t pay” (4/19) about how governments tend to destroy the nation’s wealth “investing” in projects that when completed are worth far less than the taxpayer money poured into them. We contrasted that with private sector investments in toll roads that pay for themselves.

"Among such “worth less” projects we mentioned rail transit lines, stadiums, and convention centers. We forgot to mention Transit Oriented Development (TOD), the latest “investment” to be foisted on us by tax-wasting politicians."

For those interested in our other transportation writings over the past many years go to Cliff's op/eds


date October 14, 2010.

Civil Beat's Rail Divide — Part 1: Slater Claims Evaluated :

Civil Beat has been conducting an evaluation of the supposed benefits and disbenefits of the rail transit project being claimed by us and the City. This one is titled, "The Rail Divide: Cliff Slater's Complete Response to Civil Beat" and was our verbatim response to Civil Beat's question, "Did the process that culminated in the current city proposal adequately evaluate what would be the most cost-effective transit solution to best serve the largest number of people? Please explain."


date October 13, 2010.

Vote NO on the Transit Authority question:

Vote NO since all that the Authority will do is insulate our elected officials from any accountability for the inevitable cost overruns, ridership shortfalls and traffic congestion that will be caused by rail’s construction. We have set out our views on this issue that is worth reading. In it we show that "Authorities" are responsible for an overwhelming majority of the nation's $78 billion of transit maintenance backlogs.


date October 8, 2010.

Will Honolulu rail go the way of the Trans-Hudson tunnel?

Engineering News Record reports that yesterday Gov. Christie of New Jersey pulled the plug on the $8.7 billion Trans-Hudson River passenger rail tunnel project that was expected to double commuter train capacity between New Jersey and Manhattan.

“Christie, who halted construction on September 10 to conduct a 30-day review of the project, said the study confirmed that costs are expected to exceed the current budget possibly by nearly $6 billion. The state would have been on the hook for any costs over the $8.7 billion budget agreed upon by New Jersey Transit, the Port Authority and the FTA.”

About $478 million has been spent on the Tunnel Project to date.

“I will not allow taxpayers to fund projects that run over budget with no clear way of how these costs will be paid for, Christie said.”

If Mayor-elect Carlisle or our next Governor decides to do a thorough and honest review of costs and finances they will undoubtedly face the same financial issues that Gov. Christie did.

Read the full story.


date October 7, 2010.

New gleanings from FTA responses to our FOIA requests:

As the FTA responds to our FOIA requests we will post them for your reading enjoyment.

Notes from the November 2009 Project Oversight meeting. The City was asked by the FTA about, “the $90 million reduction from the engineer’s estimate that was reported by the news media.” It turns out that the real engineer’s estimate was only $19 million more than the winning bid. And that is before all the change orders are accounted for. Already Kiewit has applied for four change orders and it looks like more are coming because Kiewit undersized the supporting pillars in their bid with apparently the City's concurrence.

Leslie Rogers, head of FTA’s Region IX, said that “the current financial plan was not adequate to allow the project to advance into Final Design under an LONP [Letter of No Prejudice] at this time … [and] noted the need for Final Design approval before an LONP for construction could be considered.”

Notes from the Project Management Oversight Contractor’s Report, July 2010. Parsons Brinckerhoff’s tab as the General Engineering Consultant was up to $116 million last June and is increasing at the rate of $3 million monthly. The tab for Infraconsult to oversee PB’s work was originally $11.5 million and they have  a new 2009 contract for five years for $37 million.  


date October 6, 2010.

New York rail transit work hurts economy:

( Table source )  


Monday's New York Times carried the story of how the Second Avenue transit work was having a devastating effect on the local economy. Following are two excerpts:

"The noise, dust, barricades and occasional explosions associated with construction of the long-awaited Second Avenue subway are driving away customers from businesses along the avenue and plunging many shops and restaurants into deep financial trouble, two dozen merchants said."

"In July, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce counted 29 shuttered storefronts between 63rd and 96th Streets — a once-bustling stretch where the subway’s first three stations and the connecting tunnel are being dug. Since then, at least two other businesses have closed. And while the anemic economy has surely taken its toll, many merchants say business has declined 25 percent to 50 percent over the last three years because of the hurdles posed by construction."


date October 3, 2010.

Where does the rail project stand today?

We are constantly being asked this question and so we have spelled out the hurdles that rail proponents must overcome in future months in "Where the Rail Project Stands Today." We will revise this from time to time and keep it on the website above LATEST NEWS.


Here's how they go about rail protests in Germany:

Thanks to Breitbart.com we were able to get the following from the AFP global news service dated 9/29/2010.

"Chancellor Angela Merkel called for calm Friday after riot police used what critics called "Rambo" tactics to disperse thousands of opponents of a contentious rail project.

"I would hope that demonstrations like these would pass off peacefully," Merkel told public broadcaster SWR after the skirmishes in the southwestern city of Stuttgart on Thursday that raged on into the night.

"This must always be tried, and anything that leads to violence must be avoided."

"Demonstrators said that more than 20,000 protestors, including more than 1,000 schoolchildren, were dispersed by close to 1,000 police in riot gear using water cannons, pepper spray, tear gas and batons.

"More than 400 people including minors needed medical treatment, mostly because of the tear gas and pepper spray but also due to broken noses and wrists as well as cuts, demonstrators said.

"One man's eye was shot out after he was hit full in the face by water cannon," Axel Wieland, a spokesman for the demonstrators from the BUND green pressure group, told AFP. A police spokeswoman confirmed this."  


date September 30, 2010.

Portland's big gains in cyber commuting:

We have remarked before about the increases in cyber commuting in the U.S. Wendell Cox in this short report, "Portland Metro's Competitiveness Problem," examines the situation in Portland, Oregon. The following is the abstract:

"Jobs have simply not been created in Portland's core. Since 2001, downtown employment has declined by 3,000 jobs, according to the Portland Business Alliance. In Multnomah County, Portland's urban core and close-by surrounding communities, 20,000 jobs were lost between 2001 and 2009. Even during the prosperous years of 2000 to 2006, Multnomah County lost jobs. Suburban Washington and Clackamas counties gained jobs, but their contribution fell 12,000 jobs short of making up for Multnomah County's loss. The real story has been Clark County (the county seat is Vancouver), across the I-5 Interstate Bridge in neighboring Washington and outside Metro's jurisdiction. Clark County generated 13,000 net new jobs between 2001 and 2009.

"While taxpayer funded transit was attracting less than its share of new commuters out of cars, one mode – unsupported by public funds - was doing very well. Between 1980 and 2009, working at home rose from 2.2% of employment to 6.2%. in the four county area (including Clark County). Thus, nearly as many people worked at home as rode transit to work in 2009 (Note). Already, working at home accounts for a larger share of employment than transit in the larger 7 county metropolitan area. All of this is despite Portland's having spent an extra $5 billion on transit in the last 25 years on light rail expansions and more bus service. (Figure 2)."


date September 28, 2010.

Likely change orders coming on first winning rail bid:

When the Caldwell/Hannemann administration announced a year ago that Kiewit Pacific had been awarded the design-build rail transit contract for the 6.5-mile phase covering Kapolei to Pearl Highlands, they said the bid was $90 million less than estimated.

However, we have just received from a highly reliable source a description of Kiewit's soil testing, which apparently reveals how Kiewit was able to offer the lowest bid on the project and why the cost may be increasing,

    “Based upon the preliminary geotech all indications were that the shortest drilled caisson shafts were 60 to 70 feet deep, and in the Waipahu area there were some that were upwards if 175 to 200 feet, most of which were more in friction than in end point loads. The way Kiewit reduced this amount was by saying that they were going to end-tip grout the caissons, which essentially means that they were going to try to create a bubble at the end of their caissons to try to get more of an end tip bearing and try to catch the shallower boulder layer rather than just friction. This allowed them in theory to reduce the pile lengths by about 25 to 35%, I say in theory as it appears that they are currently working on a large change in conditions change order. I also understand that the test caissons are being installed in within the next few weeks, so the results will end up being very critical to the claim for a change in conditions.”

Excellent op/ed in Hawaii Reporter:

Beverly Keever, professor emerita at UH, has written a excellent op/ed for Hawaii Reporter, titled "Hannemann’s Landslide Loss Calls For Re-evaluation of Honolulu’s $5.5 Billion Fixed-Rail Project and Openness."  

What was especially interesting was her quotes from Professor Karl Kim, long a proponent of Honolulu's rail transit proposals. Following is an unabridged excerpt from the op/ed:

    “Transportation projects in Hawaii have been all about jobs and the connections between money, land, and power,” writes Karl Kim, an M.I.T.-educated professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “There hasn’t been sufficient scrutiny over who would be employed by these expensive capital projects and the extent to which mainland firms and outside labor will be imported to complete them. It’s been about winning or losing battles, rather than designing and building effective solutions for meeting the real transportation needs of communities.”

    The guarantee of local jobs was further clouded just a week after the election by the announcement made on Sept. 24 that U.S. regulations governing some construction projects involving federal funds would override state requirements that Hawaii residents to be hired.

    “How is it,” Kim goes on to ask “that we can be furloughing teachers, cutting welfare benefits, and downsizing vital community programs while still spending billions on fixed rail transit, financed largely by a regressive excise tax?”

    Kim maintains that official “reviews of major transportation projects have displayed insufficient systems thinking and an alarming disregard for the public.” He says that officials have insufficiently considered mixed modes of travel, “in which walking, biking or driving and travel by bus and rail are part of an overall system of ground transportation. We need to examine public and private options, including taxi and shuttle services.”

    “Rail transit, unfortunately, is headed down the same track as H-3 and the Superferry,” Kim explains. “We can expect lawsuits, challenges, delays, and wasted time and energy because not enough attention was paid to the assessment and disclosure of significant impacts.”

If rail proponents have lost Karl Kim, they are in trouble.


date September 25, 2010.

Letter from FTA chief Rogoff to Hannemann revealed:

This is a letter dated December 31, 2009, from Federal Transit Administration Director Peter Rogoff in reply to a request from then Mayor Hannemann. It is worth reading if only to note the rather testy tone used by Rogoff.

Technically, the most interesting part of the letter is the following,

“As noted in the Assessment and our letter of October 16, 2009 which approved the project into preliminary engineering, it is imperative that the current financial plan be strengthened to support future FTA project approval actions including entry into final design and any potential requests for a Letter of No Prejudice.”

In other words, the financial statement must be made more robust before the City can start construction. As we have noted in earlier comments, the City does not have the wherewithal to make the financial plan more robust. It can only use federal funds and the ½ percent GE Tax surcharge and that does not cut it.


date September 15, 2010.

REVISED: Anti-rail candidates for Honolulu City Council:

Two days ago we posted a list of anti-rail candidates and we find that we missed a few. This is the revised list.

There are four Council district races this election, which takes place this coming Saturday, September 18. They are for Districts 2, 4, 6, and 8 — the even numbered ones. In District 8, Breen Harimoto is running unopposed. The anti-rail candidates therefore in the remaining districts are:

Council District 2 — Ben Shafer

Council District 4 — Carl Higashi or Frank Giacomo

Council District 6 — Frank LaVoie, Tim Garry or Bob Vieira

There are three candidates in District 2, seven in District 4 and ten in District 6.


date September 10, 2010.

A group op/ed hits the rail on the head:

Yesterday, the Star Advertiser ran an op/ed titled "Hannemann 'collaborates' to get what he wants." Here is an excerpt:

"Instead, Hannemann orchestrated a one-sided propaganda blitz promoting rail in a series of tightly-controlled public meetings and advertising campaigns. Dissenting voices trying to present more cost-effective and flexible alternative mass transit solutions were not allowed any significant time to speak at these "public" forums, managed by city officials and paid consultants who presented fancy slide shows and talked at length, while surrounded by slick pro-rail posters.

"At most of these community meetings, questions from the audience needed to be in writing, which the city's moderator then selectively chose for responses, with no chance for follow-up discussion or any fruitful dialogue. Official answers were oftentimes erroneous and misleading, following the usual line of unrealistically optimistic projections for rail. "

"Mr. Hannemann also failed to collaborate with our local architects who have expressed strong reservations about the visual impact of an elevated system, telling them at first they were "too early" with comments and subsequently dismissing them as 'too late.'"

Click the link above for the complete op/ed.


date September 8, 2010.

Before and after images of "the environmentally preferable alternative":

The above images are of the Waipahu rail transit station showing the impact that "the environmentally preferable" rail line will have on Waipahu and, of course, everywhere else.

The following is an excerpt from our comments on the Final EIS, which is quite relevant to the above images.


“The environmentally preferable alternative”

"Above all what most puzzles us is how a noisy elevated rail line, 40 feet high and 30 feet wide, traversing the most historically sensitive part of Honolulu’s waterfront area, and thus opposed by every one of Hawaii’s environmental organizations, can be approved as “the alternative or alternatives which were considered to be environmentally preferable.” How can this happen?

"The following two statements in the Final EIS, taken together make a mockery of the NEPA process. The first statement is that,

    "While the [rail] Project will be environmentally preferable regarding effects on air quality, energy use, and water quality, the No Build Alternative [and, logically, the Managed Lane Alternative] is the environmentally preferable alternative based on overall consideration of the criteria listed in 40 CFR 1505.2(b). The No Build Alternative [and the MLA] would affect fewer historic and cultural resources and waters of the U.S., have no visual impact, and cause no displacements. However, the No Build Alternative does not meet the Purpose and Need for the Project. [ FEIS, 4-3.]

The second statement is that,

      "The purpose of the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project is to provide high capacity rapid transit in the highly congested east-west transportation corridor between Kapolei and UH Manoa, as specified in the ORTP (O‘ahuMPO 2007). [FEIS, 1-21].


    "In short, although the No-Build Alternative (and, by inference, the Managed Lane Alternative) are “environmentally preferable” they are not eligible as they are not “rapid transit,” which FTA defines as heavy rail. So no matter how environmentally preferable a project, if it is not “rapid transit” it will not be preferable?

However, that is not consistent with [the National Environmental Policy Act] NEPA. To be,

    “Consistent with NEPA, the purpose and need statement should be a statement of a transportation problem, not a specific solution. However, the purpose and need statement should be specific enough to generate alternatives that may potentially yield real solutions to the problem at-hand. A purpose and need statement that yields only one alternative may indicate a purpose and need that is too narrowly defined.”[23 CFR § 450.336]."


    We will let FTA answer that one — if they can.

date September 4, 2010.

Honolulu Magazine has the final word on rail transit:

Here is an excerpt from what Honolulu Magazine Editor A. Kam Napier wrote this month:

    "Trains kill buses. Trains cost more than buses. Trains will never come to you where you are, unless you consent to live in the sort of dense, transit-oriented developments that politicians whip up in order to retroactively justify their trains."

Read Kam's editorial in full; it is excellent.


date August 31, 2010.

Our formal comments on the rail transit Final EIS filed with FTA:

Our 15 pages of comments about the Final EIS are a supplement to the comments we made about the Draft EIS. We start our new comments as follows:

"We detailed our objections to the biased way that the City and Parsons Brinckerhoff evaluated the Managed Lane Alternative (MLA) in Part I of our Draft EIS comments to the FTA on February 6, 2009. These comments remain valid for the Final EIS since the City has yet to “rigorously analyze” the issues we raised in our comments.

"The MLA was not “fully evaluated” since the City failed to consider the improvements suggested by the City Transit Task Force in 2006. In particular, it ignored the suggestions of the Task Force regarding the zipper lane.

"The Task Force Final Report made it clear that there was inadequate study of the Managed Lane Alternative, “… the Alternatives Analysis should have presented variations on the Managed Lane Alternative that could make this alternative more attractive. Appendix 3 contains suggestions for fleshing out possible variants of the Managed Lane Alternative.”


date August 13, 2010.

Do not miss the mayoral debate tonight on Channel 2 at 7 PM

Don't miss tonight's debate between all the mayoral candidates on KHON Channel 2 where it will be broadcast live from 7 pm to 8 pm.


date August 12, 2010.

Panos for Mayor is the only choice:

This is really simple. There are three mayoral candidates left: Kirk Caldwell, Peter Carlisle, and Panos Prevedouros.

Caldwell has been helping Mufi pull the wool over our eyes for the past two years. A vote for him would be same old, same old.

Carlisle is so pro-rail he wants to extend it to the tune of another $15 billion. Here's what he said at the Waipahu debate,

    "In the long run, it's my hope to see a rail that doesn't just go from here to downtown, to the university. I'd love to see it go across the Koolaus. I'd love to see it go to Waipahu. I'd love to see it go all the way to Waianae, and ultimately, all the way to Hawaii Kai.

Carlisle needs to do his homework. First, the current rail line is not scheduled to go to UH but it is going to Waipahu. Second, his plan would add at least 42 miles of rail line to the present plan at a cost of $15 billion. What is he thinking? The Final EIS already says, "traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail."


FTA extends Final EIS comment deadline to August 26:

We have just received an email from the Federal Transit Administration


date July 22, 2010.

Is the elevated railway in its death throes?

Obviously, our former Mayor and now gubernatorial aspirant, Mufi Hannemann, must keep the elevated railway alive until after the November elections. Hannemann even declared that he had made sure before resigning as mayor "that no future mayor, no future City Council, can reverse the course we are embarking upon" with the rail project.

This is pure and simple braggadocio — strutting his stuff to the November election. Note that he did not mention the Federal Transit Administration or the current Governor.

The FTA has said that the City’s current financial plan is insufficiently robust to warrant entry into the next stage, Final Design. The Governor has said that she needs to see a plan that is robust enough to warrant entry before she will “accept” the Final EIS.

Mufi can continue this standoff by not having the City produce a new financial plan; Caldwell will do what he is told. Mufi can then continue to blame the Governor for holding up the project while deflecting blame from himself.

As we have written before (see our “misstatements” entry on July 17), the financial plan cannot be made robust enough without some highly improbable event whereby some hundreds of millions are dropped in the City’s lap. Not likely. They only have two real sources of funds — the GE Tax surcharge and federal funds. The GE tax is shaky and the fed funds are maxed out.

In 2006, the City forecast it would collect $759 million from the GE tax surcharge during fiscal years 2007-2010 ending June 30, 2010. It actually collected $536 million, 30 percent less than projected.

The three full fiscal years of tax collections have shown continuing declines — $169 million in 2008, $161 million in 2009 and $158 million in 2010.

While the Mayor and the Star Advertiser headlined record tax collections, that is editorial, not news. The news is that for the last quarter ending June 30, 2010, which included the record month, collections declined by 11 percent compared to the year earlier. This is why the Federal Transit Administration and the Governor want an independent projection of GE Tax collections.

At the moment, without using bus funds, the City is at the very least $300 million short. Mufi said yesterday, “Bus service will not be compromised; we will not use the bus fund for this rail transit system.” He can say that but the fact is, that the City’s formal financial plan given to the FTA plans to use bus funds.

Add to this the lack of progress on the Section 106 Programmatic Agreement regarding historic properties and native Hawaiian burial grounds. Then on top of that is the City’s agreement with EPA to spend $4.7 billion on our sewer systems. FTA is already worried about “competing demands on funding sources.” On top of that comes the revelation (see below) that our working age population, which is to say commuters, is declining. What does that do to ridership projections?

We do not see how rail proponents can overcome all this. However, all this delay will get Mufi to a safe haven beyond the November election. Then he can easily rationalize why the elevated railway did not happen.


date July 20, 2010.

Bad news for the elevated railway — commuters declining:

The Final  EIS tells us that for Oahu in the year 2030 there is a "projected population of 1,117,200" (FEIS, p. 1-6). However when we go to the latest Hawaii State population forecast for Oahu in 2030 we find a forecast that is 1,017,565 — that's 100,000 less.

Worse yet, when we examine the data by age group and separate out the 20 to 64 year olds who will be our commuters in 2030, we find there will be fewer of them compared to today. This contrasts markedly with the City and FTA Final EIS projection that there will be 21 percent more "trips to and from work" by 2030 (FEIS, Table 3-11).

The significance of these data is two-fold. First, the City has not updated the Final EIS to reflect the State's reduction in population growth data. Second, we can find no use in the Final EIS of age data. Given that all the growth is in people of school age and those likely to be retired, it is evident that the current ridership projections are highly overstated.



FTA extends comment period for the Final EIS:

The Federal Transit Administration announced today that they have extended the comment period to August 16 to allow additional time for all parties to review and comment on the Final EIS.


date July 19, 2010.

More grim news about rail transit cost overruns:

City Transportation Director Yoshioka keeps telling us that there have been major changes at FTA in the last few years and transit projects are now coming in on time and on budget.

We hate to keep bursting his bubble but that has not been the case, and two more have just come to light. In a June 18, 2010, letter to Christopher Dodd, the U.S. House Banking Chairman, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff lays out his latest problems with two New York City projects.

    “… the news regarding the cost overruns and schedule delays is grim. As displayed in the enclosed table, FTA now estimates that the East Side Access project is likely to cost $1.769 billion more than was initially anticipated and will be delivered some 52 months later than the dates cited in the FFGA [Full Funding Grant Agreement] that was signed by my predecessor in December 2006. For the Second Avenue Subway project, FTA estimates that the project will cost some $930 million more than anticipated and be delivered 44 months later than the dates cited in the FFGA that was signed by my predecessor in November 2007."

What Honolulu taxpayers should note is that the projected cost of the rail project has steadily increased from $2.6 billion in 2004 to $5.5 billion today with little or no change in the scope of the project. We can normally expect that the projected cost will continue to increase as we get closer to an FFGA.

Second, these cost overruns in the letter are relative to the FFGA and we are about 18 to 24 months away from being granted an FFGA.

Despite Transportation Director Yoshioka’s assertions that FTA projects are now under strict controls, they are decidedly not as evidenced by these and other projects we have brought to your attention during the past year.

Further, in the same letter, Administrator Rogoff writes to Dodd, “Most importantly, I want to assure you that not a single penny of additional Federal Section 5309 New Starts dollars will be used to fund these delays and cost overruns.”

In other words, city taxpayers are on their own for the cost overruns.


date July 18, 2010.

City having difficulty with their admission of congestion being worse with rail:

For years we have been trying to get the City to admit what their data clearly shows, that traffic congestion with rail will be worse than it is today. The have studiously avoided it and Director Yoshioka at last Wednesday's Council hearing on the Final EIS did not seem to want to admit that his admission (see our June 21 entry below) even existed.

The reason they do not want to admit it is that the great majority of folks living in the Ewa plain have been led to believe by the City that rail transit will relieve traffic congestion, which will be less in the future than it is today. We believe this is the major underpinning of the support for rail.

We have prepared a two-page brief on this issue, which explains more how the City misleads the voters on future congestion.


date July 17, 2010.

City overreaching in its population forecasts:

Charles Carole of the League of Women Voters alerted us to the fact that the City was using outdated population forecasts in the Final EIS. As you will all realize, the about 11,000 pages of Final EIS, its appendices and Technical Reports cannot all be assimilated at once; it takes time.

So we dug into the issue and we find that the City is using, "Land use, population, and employment assumptions for the year 2030 were kept consistent for all alternatives. The data were provided by the City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP) and are consistent with the ORTP (Oahu Regional Transportation Plan) forecast assumptions." This is in the Final EIS p. 2-16.  

However, you cannot go to the Final EIS or the ORTP to check on population data because it isn't there. They slice and dice it and talk about segments of the Oahu population but never the total. But we dug deeper into the matter and found the City forecast in an obscure City technical report titled Travel Forecasting Results and Uncertainties. Table 2-5 shows that the City is forecasting Oahu's population in 2030 as 1,117,322, a 22 percent increase over 2005. However, the State has been lowering its forecasts (see Appendix Tables in Excel, Table A-4) in the light of experience and since mid-2009 has been forecasting a population of 1,017,565 for 2030, about 100,000 less than the City forecast.

Just as interesting are the forecast growth rates by age group on the same table. The only age group that shows any growth rate at all are those over 65. The others are flat to negative.

Are we building a commuter rail line for the only age group that does not commute?


Star Advertiser: "Rail tax collections reach record high — full steam ahead":

In today's Advertiser reporter Sean Hao tells a different story in the body copy from the one the headline tells. He wrote:

"Despite the strong showing in June, rail tax collections in the first three months of the fiscal year trailed year-ago figures as well as current-year projections. From April through June, the half-percentage-point general excise tax surcharge raised $36.6 million, or an average of $12.2 million a month, based on figures provided by the state Department of Taxation. During the same period a year ago, the tax raised $41.1 million, or an average of $13.7 million a month."

Obviously, the June collections are an anomaly, perhaps to do with recent changes concerning when GE Tax collections by businesses have to be reported — we'll see.

In any case, GE tax collections this fiscal year, including June, are running well behind the City's projections. A more appropriate headline might have been, "Tax collections sinking City's rail hopes."


More appalling misstatements from the City:

One would think that a candidate for Mayor would be a little circumspect about what he says in public in case he gets called on it. However, that does not seem to bother the acting Mayor to be, Kirk Caldwell, who was on Hawaii Public Radio’s Town Square program with City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka the day before yesterday holding forth on the virtues of rail. Click here for the podcast.

Caldwell kept emphasizing that the federal government has “committed $1.55 billion” to the project. However, what the FTA wrote to the City in their October 16, 2009, letter was:

“The City is seeking $1,550 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds … FTA's approval of PE [entry into Preliminary Engineering] is not a commitment to approve or fund any final design or construction activities. Such decisions must await the outcome of PE, including completion of the environmental process.”

The FTA never “commits” to funding until the Full Funding Grant Agreement, which is at least a year away from now.

Caldwell and Yoshioka also both emphasized during the program that FTA and its independent contractors all thought that, “Their numbers were good … and financially viable.”

Once again, that was not what the FTA and its financial oversight contractor said. To the contrary they wrote the following to the City in the same letter,

“Further, the City should be aware that FTA's standards for the financial rating are higher for entry into final design than for entry into PE. The higher standard for final design includes an assessment of the robustness of the financial plan against increases in costs, shortfalls in revenue streams, and competing demands on funding sources. Some elements of the current financial plan may not fare well in the stress tests that FTA will apply to evaluate robustness. These elements include the projected revenue stream from the General Excise Tax, the diversion of FTA Section 5307 funds from ongoing capital needs of the bus system, and the increasing share of the City's annual budget that is required to fund the transit system. Were this plan submitted today in support of a request to advance the project into final design, its weaknesses would likely cause FTA to deny the request.” (underline added)

In a letter from Deputy DTS Director Hamayasu to FTA’s James Ryan, Hamayasu acknowledges that the Federal Management Oversight Contractor requires an independent projection of the GE Tax revenues. Obviously, Parsons Brinckerhoff has hundreds of millions of future revenues riding on the project’s progress and cannot be objective in making this projection.

We must assume that this is what the Governor is objecting to. She wants to see what the FTA wants to see. For example, an independent projection of GE Tax revenues and how the City will overcome the 5307 funding of the city buses. And this was before the last week’s $4.7 billion bombshell of the funding needed for the City’s agreement with EPA to patch up the sewers.

Check again the last sentence in the letter from FTA, “Were this plan submitted today in support of a request to advance the project into final design, its weaknesses would likely cause FTA to deny the request.” The only sources of construction funding that the City can use are the GE tax override, federal funding, and any state or private funds they may garner. State and private funds are out of the question, the federal funds are a stretch since no one other than New York has in recent times gained more than a billion dollars, and that leaves the GE tax override, which no one including the FTA and its oversight contractor has faith in.  

In short, the City cannot get an independent contractor to validate the City’s projection of total GE tax override revenues of $3.7 billion. That is why the City cannot present a financial plan to the Governor that will stand scrutiny and have the robustness that the FTA requires.


date July 13, 2010.

"A Hawaiian Sense of Place" — The Downtown Station:



date July 12, 2010.

Erratum: re City Council hearing on the Final EIS this Wednesday:

One of our alert readers noticed that we had missed the hearing on Bill 34 concerning the regulation of fireworks that will precede the informational hearing on the Final EIS for the rail project. According to the City Clerk's office, testimony will be limited to three minutes.


date July 11, 2010.

City Council to hold informational hearing on the Final EIS this Wednesday:

This coming Wednesday, July 14, at the end of the afternoon's 2:00 PM session, the Council will hold an informational hearing on the Final EIS. We do not know what form this will take but the informational hearings usually reveal more than the regular meetings. The rest of the afternoon's agenda appears to be routine and so you should plan on being there early on.


A very strange Final EIS; comments due July 26:

The Final EIS is unusual in that it has been issued without a signed, or even agreed upon, Section 106 Programmatic Agreement, and without the Governor's acceptance of the Final EIS. We have not seen this before; in all prior Final EIS's for urban transportation both of these items were finalized prior to the issuance of the Final EIS. It appears that the FTA has decided they can delay these two items until the FTA's approval of the Record of Decision.

The FTA writes in the preface to the Draft Programmatic Agreement, which is Appendix H of the Final EIS, that, "FTA [Federal Transit Administration], SHPO [Hawaii State Historic Properties Officer] and ACHP [federal Advisory Council on Historic Properties], in coordination with the invited signatories, will finalize this draft PA prior to the ROD."

This, of course, raises the question of how we are supposed to comment on the Programmatic Agreement when it has yet to be completed. We have asked for clarification from the FTA.

Despite all the foregoing this all appears to be legal and therefore your comments are due to the FTA and the City on July 26.


O'Toole looks differently at rail's lack of energy savings:

Recently, Cato's Randal O'Toole looked at Honolulu rail transit's purported energy savings differently than we have. On his excellent website, the Anti-Planner, he accepts the Final EIS numbers for Honolulu and turns them against the City. Here is what he wrote:

"Table 4-21 of the FEIS says the project will save 396 million British thermal units (BTUs) of energy each day, or 144,540 million BTUs per year. Sounds great, except that page 4-206 says project construction will cost 7.48 trillion BTUs. That means it will take 52 years of savings to pay back the energy cost. Long before 52 years are up, huge energy investments will be needed to replace rail cars, worn out track, and other infrastructure. So there is likely no net energy savings."

If you like that, you will absolutely love Randal's "The Case Against Rail," a Cato Institute publication.


date July 7, 2010.

We now have the technical reports to the Final EIS:

The Final EIS, page 4-2, lists 18 Technical Reports. These are now available here at Technical Reports and they may also be found under the Nearly Final EIS tab to the left.


date July 1, 2010.

Voters have unrealistic expectations about the rail project:

We often wonder what would happen if the media made it clear to taxpayers that what they are expecting from rail is not going to happen. For example, here are five expectations that polls reveal the public has about the rail transit project:

Traffic relief — the public believes that they will see traffic relief with rail. On the other hand City Transportation Director Yoshioka has made it clear that “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.” (see source of that below on June 21.)

Restrooms — the public takes it for granted that rail stations will have restrooms. They will not. The FEIS does not even mention them.

Parking — the public believes that parking will be available at most stations. The facts are that they will only be available at only 4 of the 21 stations. Here’s the summary from the Final EIS:


High-speed — the public generally believes that the train will whisk them into town. The fact is that the average train speed will be unlikely to exceed 28 mph. Add in the typical bus/train/bus connections and it will be down to 15 mph, or less.


Reduced energy consumption — the public believes that rail transit will be energy efficient. However, in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Department, the average energy usage per passenger miles for rail transit is greater than that for the average automobile passenger. For a full explanation of that go to www.honolulutraffic.com/HNL_rail_energy_use.pdf


date June 24, 2010.

FEIS cannot document energy savings for rail:

If the City could document savings with rail you can be sure they would do so in exquisite detail as required by statute. Instead they just make blanket statements and pull numbers out of a hat with no references whatsoever. However the indications are that Honolulu's projected rail line will be less efficient than the automobile as used in practice. We have just rewritten our take on this subject and you can find this short piece here or under the "No energy savings" tab to the left.


date June 21, 2010.

Finally after five long years of trying:

After five years we finally get the City to admit that traffic congestion will get worse with rail. This is NEWS!

    “You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail, and that is supported by the data included in the Final EIS.”

That is a direct quote from DTS Director Yoshioka in a formal response in the nearly Final EIS (page 1251 of 3222) to Cliff Slater’s original comments on the Draft EIS.


date June 17, 2010.

We have separated the nearly Final EIS into chapters:

On Tuesday, the City and FTA issued the nearly Final EIS as one large encrypted file plus separate appendices. The main file is at 306 Mb is unwieldy to use except for searches. We have decrypted the main file so that you may now copy excerpts from of it and we have separated the various chapters into individual files for ease of handling. We warn you though that Chapter 4 is still very large at 260 Mb. You can find all this at the 'Nearly Final EIS' tab, or listed chronologically under the 'NEPA process docs' tab, or, failing that, here.

You will note that the Chapter 6, the financial section, has no cash flow data, which makes this section near worthless for any serious analysis. The cash flow data will be apparently forthcoming in a Technical Memorandum at a later date.


date June 16, 2010.

The federal funding has a long way to go before approval:

The nearly Final EIS has the following statement on pages 6-4 to 6-5:

    "The City is seeking capital funds from FTA’s New Starts program, which provides funding for fixed guideway transit projects and extensions. Under current authorizing legislation, an annual appropriation is available nationwide on a discretionary basis for projects that have completed the program’s procedural requirements and that meet certain criteria specified in law and regulation. The program is highly competitive. At this point, the City is in the process of addressing FTA requirements, and indications are that the Project will meet FTA criteria. However, FTA cannot make a final commitment to fund the Project until a Full Funding Grant Agreement has been approved after NEPA requirements have been met, the Project is approved for Final Design, and the New Starts Program is reauthorized by Congress as part of the Federal Surface Transportation Funding Program. Current authorizing legislation expired but has been extended in anticipation of a new authorization in 2010, following which there could be changes in statute, regulations, policy, and funding availability."

Nearly Final EIS now on line here:

The FTA has now issued what we can only call a nearly Final EIS. We say nearly Final because the Programmatic Agreement which is Appendix H of the EIS has yet to be signed and the Governor has not approved the nearly Final EIS yet. Until those occur the document is not a Final EIS.


date June 14, 2010.

Traffic lights greatly need improvement:

Click here  for a demonstration of the adverse effects that traffic lights can have on the movement of traffic.


Neil Abercrombie testifies before Congress:

We have pointed out before that among the factors that make the rail project financially shaky are the potential effects of passage of the Akaka Bill on General Excise Tax and property tax collections. We are grateful to a native Hawaiian separatist group, the Koani Foundation, for providing this short video clip of former Representative Neil Abercrombie testifying before Congress. Without intending to, Abercrombie makes the case for the seriousness of the situation better than anyone.


The rail transit financial plan cannot possibly work:

The present financial plan is insufficiently robust, according the Federal Transit Administration, and we believe that the City cannot remedy its present shortcomings. The FTA gave its permission for the City project to enter Preliminary Engineering but wrote,

    “Further, the City should be aware that FTA's standards for the financial rating are higher for entry into final design than for entry into [Preliminary Engineering (PE)]. The higher standard for final design includes an assessment of the robustness of the financial plan against increases in costs, shortfalls in revenue streams, and competing demands on funding sources. Some elements of the current financial plan may not fare well in the stress tests that FTA will apply to evaluate robustness. These elements include the projected revenue stream from the General Excise Tax, the diversion of FTA Section 5307 funds from ongoing capital needs of the bus system, and the increasing share of the City’s annual budget that is required to fund the transit system. Were this plan submitted today in support of a request to advance the project into final design, its weaknesses would likely cause FTA to deny the request. Therefore, continued development and strengthening of the financial plan will be a crucial part of the PE effort.”

However, the City Council Ordinance governing the financing says that rail,

    “… may be constructed within financial constraints (capital cost and any interest to finance that capital cost shall be paid entirely from general excise and use tax surcharge revenues, interest earned on the revenues, and any federal, state, or private revenues) …”

Note that the FTA, in typical bureaucratic understatement, casts doubt on the City’s projected GE Tax revenue forecast and is unhappy with the diversion of federal bus funds to be used for rail construction. Given these weaknesses together with the City having no other funding sources, one has to ask, how can the City possibly devise a plan that will be robust enough to justify federal funding?