Honolulu’s Rail Project Back in the Crossfire This Fall

» Front runner in mayoral contest opposes rail project. But it’s already under construction.

In 2008, Honolulu’s citizens approved the construction of a new high-capacity rail line that would provide quick public transportation along the city’s coastline. The $5.3-billion, 20-mile project is one of the largest in the nation, but it is backed by a steady source of local revenues and the almost definite promise of a federal New Starts capital grant that will cover about a third of costs. Moreover, it has held the support of the city’s leaders consistently since 2005, when pro-rail Mayor Mufi Hannemann entered office. The project broke ground last year.

After the mayoral primary earlier this month, however, the project’s future is decidedly up in the air. Current mayor Peter Carlisle, a major supporter of the project, received only 23% of the vote and will not make it to the second round. On the other hand, former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano received 45% of the ballot; he has made his opposition to the rail project one of the primary arguments of his campaign; he has promoted the implementation of a bus rapid transit system instead. In the second round this November, Cayetano will face former city manager and rail supporter Kirk Caldwell, who received 29% of the vote.

Caldwell faces an uphill climb in his effort to convince the city’s citizens to vote for him and keep the rail project going. Not only did he receive a small percentage of the vote (though the low primary turnout might be a factor), but the city council is wavering on its support for the line. A lawsuit raising questions over environmental reporting is in court this week. The rail line’s elevated guideways — which have been a point of criticism for the project for years — continue to raise public fears about the project’s suitability to the city’s natural beauty. And recent polls have showed than about half of the population thinks the program should be stopped.

Mayor Carlisle, now a lame duck, says he will “do everything [he] can to get rail far enough along so that it cannot possibly be stopped,” but Cayetano election would certainly raise questions about whether the line has the local support necessary to finalize federal grants — particularly if anti-rail former Governor Linda Lingle becomes the state’s newest U.S. Senator this fall. Cayetano claims that he will use construction contract termination clauses to cancel the program. The whole situation is a reminder of the paralyzing indecision and backtracking that too often marks U.S. politics. Will Honolulu’s rail project replicate the story of the ARC tunnel, New Jersey’s new rail connection to New York that was cancelled in 2010 by Governor Chris Christie after construction had begun?*

There are two problems standing in the way of cancelling the rail line, though: One, the project will provide dramatically improved transit service in a city that arguably is perfect for a major fixed-guideway transit line of this sort; and two, the project is already under construction and billions of dollars have already been committed — more even than had been for the ARC project.

Honolulu’s geography, in which a relatively dense population is mostly packed up in a two-mile wide strip against the sea, makes it ideal for a fixed guideway route of the sort being proposed. The 20-mile, 21-station automated rail project will allow people to get from Kapolei, on the west side of Oahu, to downtown in roughly 45 minutes, faster than is possible today at rush hour on the congested highways serving the island. Trains will serve Waipahu, Pearl Harpor, and the city’s airport. Honolulu expects the project to serve 116,300 daily passengers by 2030.

That may seem like a lot for a relatively small city (fewer than 400,000 inhabitants), but Honolulu’s bus services already attract more than 200,000 daily riders and the metropolitan area features the fourth-highest transit trips per capita in the country according to a recent study, after New York, San Francisco, and Washington — and before very transit-oriented regions like Boston and Chicago. The Census notes that around 13% of workers already use transit. Thus there is a rich base of potential riders for the new rail network.

The likely success of the system has encouraged the city to complete it as quickly as possible. As can be seen in the recent photograph at the top of this article, there is already significant construction underway, including $429 million already expended. $905 million in local funds have already been collected, about 25% of the total needed to build the line. In the context of a potential cancellation, however, the figure that stands out most prominently is the $2.029 billion already committed to construction contracts. The first segment of the system is expected to be ready for service by 2015, with an additional extension opening in 2017 and the full line completed two years after that.

There are thus many unanswered questions about the feasibility of simply cancelling the project, even if Cayetano wins the election. Will the city simply tear down the sections of the line that have already been completed? Can the money already committed to construction contractors be refunded? More importantly in terms of getting people around the island, will a replacement bus rapid transit system — running in existing “zipper” lanes on the city’s freeways — be able to attract nearly as many new passengers as the rail line would, let alone have the capacity to carry them? And is there even money available to fund such a BRT project in a reasonably short amount of time?

We don’t know. That’s the question Honolulu voters face: Is their disapproval of the current designs for the rail project strong enough to risk abandoning improved transit service for years or even decades? Are they willing to sacrifice hundreds of millions of dollars of already spent money for naught?

* For the purposes of other research, I happened upon the following quote from 1975 that I found relevant to the Honolulu situation. Clearly, matters haven’t changed much in forty years:

“The “fickleness” or inability of local governments to behave with any degree of constancy and long-term commitment raises important questions about the viability of a program of this kind under our system [i.e., the American system]. The inability of one group of elected officials to bind their successors is… complicating attainment of the Act’s objectives.”

Source: Report of Panel on Title VII New Communities Program. A Report Prepared at the Request of the Honorable Thomas L. Ashley, Committee on Banking and Currency, U.S. House of Representatives. Columbus, OH: Academy for Contemporary Problems. June 1975.

Update, 21 August: In the original version, Mr. Caldwell’s name was in the place of Mr. Cayetano’s in two places.

Image at top: Construction underway on Honolulu rail project in West Oahu, from Honolulu Rail Transit

115 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Presumably you are familiar with the sunk cost fallacy.

    The problem with the Honolulu system is not the need for transit, but the price tag of $5.3 billion in a metro that isn’t that large. Your own stats suggest a cost/rider of around $45,000.

    I’m not going to say the project should be scrapped, but I think objections to something this expensive aren’t ridiculous either.

    The problem where it takes 10-15 years to build anything, and all it takes is one elected official anywhere in the time span to kill it is a major inhibitor of progress. One thing we can do to help deal with this is work to reduce the inflated construction cost of transit systems in the US vs. the rest of the world. Another is to speed up the planning process to get things built more quickly.

    • Hopefully this doesn’t end up like Seattle, where they talk about building something for decades and when they finally get around to it, the population that lives there doesn’t get to benefit from something that would have been good to start years ago. I don’t think light rail or BRT are the right solution for this situation as you say Yonah the island is a dense linear space. And if its skytrain technology, there won’t be the labor issues that make operations super expensive for years to come.

      But I don’t think large price tags should be a deterrent if there is some value to be had over the long term. Creating a system where you are guaranteed the same time to work/destinations every day is something I’m not sure you can put a price on in a place where there is nowhere to go but up.

      • Beta Magellan

        Seattle’s pretty much the gold standard for missed opportunities—they’re paying metro rail money now for light rail speed and capacity—1970’s metro, for all its problems, would have been a better deal in the long run.

        • Nathanael

          Yep.

          The choice is, spend money you have now and start using a useful system, or throw that money away on gasoline for 20 years and then spend twice as much (since concrete, digging, etc. prices go up faster than inflation) to build it later.

          Seattle made the wrong choice in the 70s.

    • Beta Magellan

      A lot of the opposition is aesthetic—the lawsuit is, I believe, arguing that the alternative analysis was skewed towards ROW A rail.

      Although I’m not terribly tuned-in on the opposition, a lot of it seems to be the very generic anti-rail sentiment you see in the continental US—there’s concern over capital cost, but based on newspaper comments a lot of it’s also due to operating cost though. As The Overhead Wire notes, that shouldn’t be so bad—I think a big problem here is that the cost of running the line is being shows independent of ridership or the cost of operating and maintaining Honolulu’s transportation infrastructure (just to be clear, I’m not arguing based on their gross metropolitan/state product like Yonah does for CAHSR—I don’t think that’s a fruitful comparison). Another big concern is safety/undesirables. And of course the biggest one is the whole “no one will ride it because I never will” argument.

      I wonder if there’s an issue of construction costs just being higher in Honolulu, too (cost-of-living certainly is), or maybe with the complexity of the project—as far as I can tell, they’re doing a DBOM with what appears to be an experienced and competent contractor, which is the way such projects should be done. Perhaps more likely Breda & Co. realize they can get away with stuff in our political culture that they can’t in Denmark.

    • It is true that the cost of the project has increased since 2008, when it was projected to cost $4.3 billion. That is a concern, and indeed, the project’s cost is very high. On the other hand, at $265 million/mile, the project’s about the same cost as other metro rail systems being built in the US.* And the program is financially solvent — the city expects to be debt-free by 2023.

      The sunk cost fallacy absolutely does apply here. But here’s what it says: In order to complete the rail system, Honolulu only needs to spend $3 billion more than it has already committed (because there are effectively $2 billion in sunk costs already). It could certainly stop the project now, but the result would be that it would likely have to invest $5 billion or more in a project later (if it ever builds rail again), instead of $3 billion now. Not to mention that it would have to wait many more years for the project to be done. And it would have to tear down the structures it has already built. What would you choose to do?

      * Miami’s just-opened Orange Line cost about $210 million/mile. BART’s Warm Springs extension is $164 million/mile, the Silicon Valley extension is $210 million/mile. Washington’s Dulles rail line extension Phase 1 is about $239 million/mile. New York’s two subway extension projects (admittedly underground, unlike the others) are much more expensive, about $2 billion/mile for the 2nd Avenue Subway and $2.5 billion/mile for the 7 train extension.

      • bakatare

        The cost of the Honolulu rail project has not really inflated since the Alternatives Analysis report in 2006 in terms of Year of Expenditure dollars.

        As can be verified here, on page 5-12, the year of expenditure cost estimates for the 20 mile alignment range between $5.002 billion and $5.147 billion. The current cost estimate is $5.163 billion.

    • Buckeyeman

      I would have to say that the planning process does need to be sped up on any kind of rail transportation project, although some caution in getting the job done right and without just ramming it down peoples’ throats would still be ideal.

  • Miles Bader

    So what’s the politics behind this new guy’s infatuation with BRT-at-all-costs? Oil-company lobbying, or tea-bagger?

    • Andre L.

      It is to stop name-calling any opponent to some specific transit project as a “bought-for lobby in charge”. It’s better to discuss arguments instead of trying to question the credibility of the questioner.

      • Nathanael

        In this case, the anti-rail fanatic is either bought-and-paid-for, or an anti-rail ideologue. Possibly both It’s not a matter of “questioning the credibity of the questioner”; the Honolulu rail project is so obviously sensible that his opposition on spurious grounds *raises the question* of the motives of the questioner.

        It is very much time, indeed, to start raising the motives of the questioner in cases like this, and of Walker in Wisconsin, where Republicans propose to actually *waste money in order to prevent rail service*. Such behavior is suspicious on its face as it cannot be made by honest, intelligent people.

    • Chris

      The anti-rail candidate, Cayetano, is a Democrat.

      The pro-rail candidate, Caldwell, is an Independent/ Republican.

      • Frank

        No, Cayetano is a Democrat, Caldwell is a Democrat, and Carlisle is Independent.

        The anti-rail candidate, Cayetano, did well in the primary because he attracted Republicans and other anti-rail advocates. Caldwell and Carlisle split the vote between the pro-rail voters.

        Cayetano also spent the majority of his campaign funds on advertising before the primary, hoping to secure 50% of the vote before the general election, which would have prevented a runoff and allowed him to win immediately.

        It’s likely that the bulk of the anti-rail crowd already turned out for the primary, and will be unable to secure a majority in the general election.

  • Ray Pascual

    Yonah, I believe Cayetano is the anti-rail candidate, not Caldwell.

  • George

    Isn’t Hawaii one of those places that will likely not be around in 40 years. Why bother investing in long-term infrastructure?

    • Woody

      The islands will be around even after the ice caps melt, just smaller. Perhaps the prospect of a rising sea level is one reason for building an elevated line?

      • Ocean Railroader

        There are several large sections of the islands that are breaking up do to erosion that are several miles across and when they fall into the sea they will break apart many coastal areas outside of the state too.

        Oddly though some of the islands are getting bigger and a new one might even rise up out of the sea some time thousands of years in the future.

        • “Oddly” some of the islands are getting bigger?

          Why is it odd? Its a mid-ocean island chain created by ocean plate drift over a hot spot, so the islands still over the hot spot are still growing due to lava flows and the islands that are not longer over the hot spot are shrinking due to erosion.

          If the islands weren’t able to grow while they were still over the hot spot, they wouldn’t exist in the first place.

      • Nathanael

        Indeed, as volcanic islands, the Hawaiian islands slope up very steeply from the shoreline. It’s like Brooklyn Heights or Midtown Manhattan or the Palisades or San Diego; most of it is not actually nearly sea level, even though it’s near the ocean.

        A significant rise in sea level would, basically, move the beaches back a block.

        I believe that the elevated line is far enough inland that, in most places, even the land under it is not at serious risk. Since it’s elevated there is really no risk.

      • Dexter Wong

        Well, actually the higher cost of a subway is the reason for the elevated line. That and the high water table in Honolulu (you don’t have to dig down too far to find water). Hawaii is more resistant to sea level rise because it is a volcanic chain that sits higher than a coral atolls like Tuvalu (they own the .tv domain) which could disappear completely if the sea rises too high. However, over the centuries, the Hawaiian islands will eventually erode away as it moves north toward the Aleutian chain (and newer islands erupt from the sea at the hot spot).

  • Marco

    Cayetano is the candidate who is against rail.
    His entire campaign is based on stopping rail and he has no realistic alternative plan to alleviate what is considered to be the worst traffic in the US. I heard him speak recently about a possible BRT and he is completely clueless about transit issues. The price of the system is not a problem since $1.5 billion is coming from the Fed, almost $1 billion is already collected and the remaining $2.5 billion will be collected from a .5% sales tax over the next 10 years.

    • Ben Cayetano

      Marco apparently has no idea of the fiscal issues facing the City. Here are a few: $6 billion to upgrade the sewer system, including a $4.7 billion EPA mandated upgrade, $6 billion to upgrade a water system which experiences a water main break more than 350 times a year. $1.6 billion to upgrade a potholed plagued road and street system ranked third worse in the nation.

      For cities with a population less than a million, Honolulu is ranked the most unaffordable
      city in the nation. Highest gas prices in the nation, electricity rates triple the national average, highest food prices and cost of housing, city and state employee retirement system faces $8 billion unfunded liability, health fund $14 billion unfunded liability.

      As for rail, three recent studies, one by the state, two by the FTA itself, concluded that the construction cost is likely to be $7 billion not $5.27billion. Former GOP Governor Linda Lingle, initially the first to support the rail project, now opposes it.

      City’s FEIS revealed that rail will alleviate traffic congestion by only 1.5%. City no longer argues rail will reduce traffic congestion. University of Hawaii study concluded the rail project will produce 2,000 jobs over the life of the project — not 10,000 new jobs EACH YEAR touted by the city! City now shifted its argument to transit oriented development.

      Honolulu is ranked first among the ten cities with the worse traffic congestion in the nation (a University of Texas study ranks it 50th.) What is not said is that the other nine cities have invested billions in rail systems which obviously has not improved traffic congestion.

      No city comparable to Honolulu in size and population has built, plans to build or is building an elevated, steel on steel heavy rail system like Honolulu’s. In fact, many cities have turned to BRT systems because they are a fraction the cost of rail, flexible to change and achieve substantially the same results.

      The emergence of BRT systems as a viable alternative to rail is borne by the fact that a month ago President Obama signed a law (MAP-21) which classifies BRT, like rail, as a “fixed guideway” eligible for up to 80% federal funding.

      Finally, Marco assumes that the Congress will approve the $1.5 billion requested by the City for its proposed rail project. That is quite a stretch. The city has no “Plan B” to cover cost overruns and is relying solely on Dan Inouye to get Congress to approve the $1.5 billion.

      The population of the City and County of Honolulu is 950,000. That is a very small tax base to cover a rail system that will cost $5.27 to $7 billion and serve only 15% of the population. Cost of operating and maintaining the rail system? Don’t get me started — that’s another horror story that will require tripling the real property, raising rail/bus fares or a combination of both.

      • bardak

        City’s FEIS revealed that rail will alleviate traffic congestion by only 1.5%.

        No other mass transit plan will help traffic either and widening freeways or building new ones would involve a huge amount of property acquisition making the cost in the same scale of rail. Rail at least gives people ways to avoid the traffic.

        No city comparable to Honolulu in size and population has built, plans to build or is building an elevated, steel on steel heavy rail system like Honolulu’s.

        Vancouver only had a population 20% higher(1,169,831 vs. 953,207) when it built its first line. However I would argue that Honolulu’s rail will better connect the communities in the metro area than the Skytrain did in Vancouver.

        The emergence of BRT systems as a viable alternative to rail is borne by the fact that a month ago President Obama signed a law (MAP-21) which classifies BRT, like rail, as a “fixed guideway” eligible for up to 80% federal funding.

        I does classify BRT as “fixed guideway” however it in order for it to have that classification it has to include transit only lanes for the majority of the length. So where do you put these lanes? Do you take existing lanes and make them transit only increasing congestion(Which seems to be a major issue for you) or add more lanes to roads which is expensive and does not help congestion.

        serve only 15% of the population.

        I’m assuming this means people within walking distance to a station which for a single transit line is actually quite good for a single transit line. But how many people will be able to take a 15 minute bus ride to the rail line and transfer on to the very frequent automated rail line.

        Yes the Honolulu rail line is expensive but before it is cancelled there need to be an actual plan proposed as an alternative even if I would hate it. As it stands right now people are proposing to cancel a major regional plan and only providing abstract ideas of alternative.

      • bakatare

        As for rail, three recent studies, one by the state, two by the FTA itself, concluded that the construction cost is likely to be $7 billion not $5.27billion. Former GOP Governor Linda Lingle, initially the first to support the rail project, now opposes it.

        What are those three studies? From what I understand, only one study, commissioned by former Governor Lingle, concluded that the sum of both capital and operating subsidy, and thus not capital alone as you’ve stated, associated with the Honolulu rail project over a 20 year period would be $1.7 billion more than anticipated, and thus total approximately $7 billion.

        City’s FEIS revealed that rail will alleviate traffic congestion by only 1.5%. City no longer argues rail will reduce traffic congestion. University of Hawaii study concluded the rail project will produce 2,000 jobs over the life of the project — not 10,000 new jobs EACH YEAR touted by the city! City now shifted its argument to transit oriented development.

        The Honolulu rail project was never advertised as a “silver bullet” for traffic congestion relief. I’m assuming your claim of 1.5% traffic congestion reduction is based on the Final EIS projection of a 1.3% reduction in islandwide, not only on the relevant rail corridor, trips by all modes when compared to a no-build alternative. The FEIS also states that vehicles miles traveled will be reduced by 4 percent, vehicle hours traveled will be decreased by 8 percent, and the vehicle hours of delay is expected to be reduced by 18 percent over the no-build scenario.

        On the job projections, the projections by the City in the FEIS did note that the estimations were a sum of direct, indirect, and induced jobs and not just those directly tied to the project. Did the UH study differentiate between the three job types?

        The emergence of BRT systems as a viable alternative to rail is borne by the fact that a month ago President Obama signed a law (MAP-21) which classifies BRT, like rail, as a “fixed guideway” eligible for up to 80% federal funding.

        The Transportation Act only acknowledges BRT projects as being a “fixed guideway bus rapid transit project” if the particular implementation meets certain criteria. This includes a majority of the project operating in a separate right of way dedicated for public transit during peak periods, a substantial investment in a single route in a defined corridor or subarea, defined stations, traffic signal priority for public transit vehicles, short headway bidirectional service for a substantial part of the day, and any other features up to the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation. Many of the above requirements would inherently make a fixed guideway BRT somewhat inflexible unlike what you claim.

        Finally, Marco assumes that the Congress will approve the $1.5 billion requested by the City for its proposed rail project. That is quite a stretch. The city has no “Plan B” to cover cost overruns and is relying solely on Dan Inouye to get Congress to approve the $1.5 billion.

        Honolulu has just recently applied for a Full Funding Grant Agreement, and it has been said by the current director of the local transportation authority that basically no project has gotten this far and not received the federal funding. I haven’t been able to verify this statement, however perhaps someone here can elucidate a bit further?

        As far as cost overruns are concerned, some would say that the $800 million contingency built into the project’s financial plan is the “Plan B.” Furthermore, the local transportation authority has the ability to request the City Council for additional funds from the $450 million in tax exempt commercial paper, $100 million of which is already being used for cash flow purposes, available for the rail project that is independent of the contingency in the financial plan.

        The population of the City and County of Honolulu is 950,000. That is a very small tax base to cover a rail system that will cost $5.27 to $7 billion and serve only 15% of the population.

        The capital cost of $5.163 billion has a $3.291 billion portion of it that will be funded by the taxpayer contribution. As Hawaii has no sales tax, but instead has a General Excise Tax (GET) that is generally passed down to the consumer which mimics a sales tax, a 0.5% addition to the GET was approved by the State Legislature to comprise the local contribution. About 30% of the GET is comprised by tourist purchases. Consider also that the resident taxpaying population for the GET includes those who do not normally pay other forms of taxes as for example, a kid buying a video game from a store is contributing to the GET. The local contribution to the rail project’s capital cost is also amortized over about 20 years.

      • Ocean Railroader

        This city used to have a good streetcar system that went around the whole island and they ripped it up to turn the tropical paradise into a parking lot. What I don’t understand is how what you think would be a small island has such a giant system of roads and parking lots and big freeways. Wouldn’t people want to walk everywhere if the place was less than 20 miles across? They could most likely have rebuild the island’s streetcar system for 40% of the cost.

        I really think if he cuts this project while it is being built it will make him look like a moron in that it will be a half finished elevated subway line standing in the city looking back at him and the people. Unlike the Florida and the California high rail systems which are sitting ducks while not under construction. This thing has armor in that it’s under construction and going full tilt.

        • Andre L.

          Rebuilding a 19th century infrastructure? Why this useless nostalgia.

          For a starter, pre-WW2 Honolulu urban area had 1/4 of its current population.

          Moreover, a streetcar system would be still woefully slow by design.

          Maybe they should consider a monorail…

          • Beta Magellan

            US regulations on emergency walkways give monorails almost as bad a footprint as narrow-ish light metro, plus there are higher O&M costs from having to maintain three surfaces to maintain and through the use of rubber tires instead of steel wheels on rails. There are also fewer suppliers with no agreed-upon standards (there’s no standard gauge for monorail), which makes it harder to bid down costs. Unless Honolulu really needs the grade-climbing ability that comes with all that extra traction, there’s really little point in switching to monorail.

            • Nathanael

              Indeed. The Honolulu elevated system as it is being built has pretty much all the advantages of a monorail, except that it’s on two steel rails and uses standard, off-the-shelf equipment instead of proprietary equipment.

          • Dexter Wong

            Yes, a streetcar system would be slow, but oddly enough, the Honolulu AIA is backing a light rail system that looks just like a streetcar system. Odd, isn’t it?

            • Andre L.

              They are backing an urban beautification project, not a transportation one. Which is often the case when you have such groups “rallying behind” streetcars proposals anywhere.

              You name it (Kansas City, New Orleans, Austin) – these projects are woefully inefficient as transportation, even if you consider only their limited application as “circulators” in a narrow high-density area.

        • Dexter Wong

          Well, actually Oahu had a steam railroad that covered half of the island (1889-1947)and a streetcar system that covered much of urban Honolulu (1901-1941), which was Kalihi-Kaimuki at the time. However, most lines were converted to bus in 1933 to save sagging ridership. Every line became a bus line by mid-1941 (just before the Pearl Harbor attack in Dec). Honolulu Rapid Transit (1901-1971)(the streetcar and bus company) was an early member of the ERPCC, but dropped out when development of the new PCC streetcar was not fast enough for their needs. Also the people of Honolulu seem to love driving their cars, but it has brought them to this point where they flirt with gridlock regularly.

          • Ocean Railroader

            I remember we had a story about when the Norfolk light rail lines opened up they had one of the drivers from the original Norfolk streetcar system drive one of the cars and he referred. refer to it as a ultra modern streetcar. They most likely had no idea at the time how many people would be living on the islands at the time and driving around in cars. If they do bring the streetcar system back they could most likely give it own reserved lanes in the car infested streets in that it would help remote better transport behaviors by making them faster and run more on time.

            I remember hearing that a large Earthquake triggered a giant tidal wave helped push the steam railroad over the edge in terms of killing it.

      • Marco

        Thanks Ben, You have confirmed my two points that you do not have a credible alternative traffic plan and that you don’t seem to understand basic transit concepts. I have added a few comments below even though most of your points have already been discredited.

        “Marco apparently has no idea of the fiscal issues facing the City. Here are a few: $6 billion to upgrade the sewer system, including a $4.7 billion EPA mandated upgrade, $6 billion to upgrade a water system which experiences a water main break more than 350 times a year. $1.6 billion to upgrade a potholed plagued road and street system ranked third worse in the nation.”

        Honolulu will have these problems with or without a rail system. As you know the rail funding was specifically voted for and approved for the transit project only. This money cannot be used for general funding although I understand that you’re hoping to change the law if you become mayor so that you can disperse these funds as you see fit to whom you choose.

        “For cities with a population less than a million, Honolulu is ranked the most unaffordable
        city in the nation. Highest gas prices in the nation, electricity rates triple the national average, highest food prices and cost of housing, city and state employee retirement system faces $8 billion unfunded liability, health fund $14 billion unfunded liability.”

        Yes. I believe that these were all issues during the time that you were governor too.

        “Honolulu is ranked first among the ten cities with the worse traffic congestion in the nation (a University of Texas study ranks it 50th.)”

        This is exactly why we need to elect a candidate that has credibility on the transit issue.

        “What is not said is that the other nine cities have invested billions in rail systems which obviously has not improved traffic congestion.”

        So by your logic, these cities would be better off without transit systems. Maybe New York City should get rid of those pesky subways and the Bay Area could shut down the BART and save some money.

        “Finally, Marco assumes that the Congress will approve the $1.5 billion requested by the City for its proposed rail project. That is quite a stretch. The city has no “Plan B” to cover cost overruns and is relying solely on Dan Inouye to get Congress to approve the $1.5 billion.”

        I think that the guarantee of the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee may carry some weight. Also, other posters have noted that funds have been budgeted for cost overruns. The worst case is that the .5% tax is extended for a 1 year or two.

        In summary, most of your arguments center on the cost issue and I agree that $5 billion is a lot of money. Fortunately, that funding is in place. The other state financial issues need to be dealt with on their own. By canceling the rail project without a viable alternative, you are not addressing the issue of the worst traffic in the nation, you are turning away $1.5 billion federal dollars for the Hawaiian economy, you are guaranteeing that Honolulu will not see a transit solution in the next 30 years since the price of building will be much greater, the land needed will be more difficult to acquire and we will no longer have a Senator of Mr. Inouye’s stature.

      • Nathanael

        “Highest gas prices in the nation,”
        And you’re OPPOSING an alternative to gasoline?

        “electricity rates triple the national average,”
        Hawaii is perfect for solar panels. Are you proposing mass installation of solar panels on every roof? If you do so, the electricity rates will go down.

        Hawaii, with lots of sun and high grid electricity rates, is the first place in the US where it is simply cheaper over the lifetime of the solar panels to install your own solar panels than it is to buy grid power. Anyone who has access to enough savings to do so should be doing so already.

        In Hawaii, the situation is so extreme that it’s even worth soing it if you have to borrow money at 5% interest to do so.

        Do you have a proposal to convert all the city-owned buildings to city-owned solar power? That would be a money-saving proposal over the 20-year time frame.

        As for the pothole-plagued road system, have you considered taking some people out of their cars, and the cars off the road, by building, you know, a passenger rail system? That would reduce the damage to the roads.

        Finally, ridership estimates for fully automated rail lines running through very dense areas have consistently been *low* over the last 20 years.

        • Nathanael

          (…which is to say that I am pretty sure this line will do better than the EIS estimates.)

        • Ocean Railroader

          A lot of people I have heard are buying solar panels in this area in that it is a fairly large market. Also a lot of electric cars are sold in this area do to the small amount of space of the island which helps cut down on people worrying about the range of a electric car. But what I would like to know is how expensive is the parking on this island in that I suspect it’s not cheap.

      • Dexter Wong

        You do realize Ben, that 950,000 is more than the population of the City and County of San Francisco (approx. 840,000), which has a busier transit system including two kinds of buses (diesel and trolley), five kinds of rail (cable car, streetcar, light rail, heavy rail and commuter rail) and several ferry systems. Honolulu is larger in area and still has only bus.

  • Beta Magellan

    After a quick Google search through the popular press it seems like, in the press, there’s a lot of confusion over phasing and YOE vs. 2005-12 dollars. Although I’m sure there have been some overruns from initial projections, confusion on what dollars are being reported can exacerbate it. Does anyone have more consistent figures on this?

  • Claire

    Hi, I live in Honolulu, am not affiliated with the project and I’m not running for any office.

    Our construction costs are unbelievably high and I can offer these insights.

    Any surface and sub-surface construction has potential archaeological impacts; there has been significant delay in getting those necessary reviews completed.

    The State Historic Preservation Office has been troubled (that’s the best way to describe its problems) and many of you are correct in noting that the time (decades) it takes to build anything of importance/significance combined with singular personalities that have the ability to kill projects are worthy considerations.

    Our political culture may not be that different from Chicago, although I’m hoping the worst is behind us. As is happening elsewhere, there is a decent push to have more gov’t processes be “transparent.”

    Being as small as we are limits the amount of companies competing for work, so I’m going to add our isolation and distance from everywhere else as contributing factors to the high cost of construction in Honolulu, HI.

    • Claire

      Our Hawaii Supreme Court ruled yesterday on one of two court cases pertaining to Honolulu’s rail plan. My layperson knowledge means I do not quite fathom what the impacts would be, but the ruling highlights (again) the incompetency of the main entity in our state (the State Historic Preservation Division) that is supposed to ENSURE the protection of historic resources.

      Here are some major points from the opinion:

      “In sum, the SHPD FAILED to comply with HRS chapter 6E and its implementing rules when it concurred in the rail project prior to the completion of the required archaeological inventory survey for the entire project. The City similarly FAILED to comply with HRS chapter 6E and its implementing rules by granting a special management area permit for the rail project and by commencing construction prior to the completion of the historic preservation review process.” pg. 6 (emphasis mine)

      “…the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the City and State on Counts 1 through 4 of Kaleikini’s complaint, because the rules implementing HRS §§ 6E-8 and 6E-42 do not permit the SHPD to concur in the rail project absent a completed AIS for the entire project. However, the circuit court properly granted summary judgment in favor of the City and State on Counts 5 and 6 because (1) the final EIS WAS SUFFICIENT under HRS chapter 343 and was properly accepted by the Governor; and (2) the City and State GAVE FULL CONSIDERATION to cultural and historic values as required under HRS chapter 205A.” pg. 82 (emphasis mine)

      Source: http://www.inversecondemnation.com/files/scap-11-0000611.pdf

      Here are two articles that highlight SHPD’s troubles, which go back at least as far as 2002 to Governor Lingle’s administration:

      http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/November-2007/Bones-of-Contention/

      http://honoluluweekly.com/cover/2010/04/cut-to-the-bones/

      • Frank

        Basically, a lower court dismissed a complaint because it found the project complied with environmental survey laws by splitting the project into four sections, then completing a survey for each section prior to the construction of that section.

        The State Supreme Court heard an appeal, and determined the lower court was wrong in allowing the project to be split in that manner. The lower court is now instructed to hear the case.

        If the plaintiff wins, it means construction will be delayed until every section’s survey is complete. It would delay the project several months. It would not stop the project completely.

  • Ron

    What Governor Cayetano fails to mention is there is no room to build BRT. This means he is proposing a plan that cannot be built. Not to mention he has only provided the public with bits of pieces of a plan. During his interview with the StarAdvertiser he provided them with very little information concerning BRT. So little that they called his plan half baked. And one last thing, ten years ago when this same BRT plan was proposed by Mayor Harris, one of the main reasons it was killed was public opposition. No one wanted the BRT structures in their neighborhoods, no one wanted lanes on our already narrow streets in town taken away from cars and everyone understood it would only make things worse. All this talk about sewers and water systems is to cover up the fact that Cayetano has no workable plan.

    • Nathanael

      So he’s proposing a plan which has ALREADY been killed by public opposition, and which would INCREASE gas and oil usage even if it were implemented, as an alternative to a plan which actually passed the voters and would REDUCE oil usage?

      What a tool.

  • Truth

    Ben’s references to Honolulu’s problems are just diversions. All cities in the United States are facing the same issues as Honolulu; but the forward-thinking cities are addressing them face on instead of using them to place fear into it’s citizens.

    BRT will not work in Honolulu. It was tried before under Mayor Harris, and local people were against it. We do not have the room to build BRT. It will require dedicated lanes to work in the city, which will kill local businesses. It will also kill pedestrians trying to reach the BRT. We already have the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country. BRT will also cost more than rail, because it’s personnel and fuel costs are higher.

    For those who point to the cost of rail, I got news for you, even Ben says so. It could have cost only $1 billion several years ago, but capricious politicians like Lingle and the city council voted it down over the vote of the people. Ben, if you were such a fan of bus rapid transit, how come you did not implement it with the city when you were governor?

    A word about traffic congestion. They are six things a city must do to solve traffic period. No politician would dare say them, but as a transportation planner I will: 1) Implement tolls on all freeways; 2) No free parking anywhere; 3) Restrict the number of cars coming into the city; 4) Raise the gasoline tax to actually pay for roads, buses, and guess what rail; 5) Restrict where we have housing and businesses; and 6) Restrict the number of babies you have.

    As you can see, traffic congestion is a lot more complicated than you think. It’s solutions are even more controversial and unpalatable than rail.

    Rail will get local people from point A to point B safely and on time without ever worrying about traffic, parking, and gasoline prices. It’s about creating an alternative way to travel where there is none now.

    Ben, when you lie to local people. We all lose.

  • Ocean Railroader

    The ARC Tunnel was doomed in that it was not far enough along in it’s construction when it was slaughtered like an animal. In that at the time they where moving underground pipes and digging out a pit to lower a digging machine into it which is easy to kill by pulling the funding on it. This thing is a lot more farther along in that it has several long sections of track under construction. Not to mention if it gets killed the people will get to look back at it and say there goes our transit system back to sitting in traffic. What I can’t believe is how such as a small island has been over ruined with cars and traffic there most likely is more parking spaces for cars and roads than space for houses and people.

    • Nathanael

      Third world countries like Thailand can point to the giant concrete pillars of half-constructed, cancelled urban rail lines as evidence that they are still non-functional, third world countries.

      Does Honolulu really want to go that route?

      • simple

        Thailand is hardly a “third world” country. I think you mean “developing” country. Nonetheless, your main point stands.

        • Nathanael

          “Third world” originally meant “not allied with the US or the Soviet Union”; the term is kind of obsolete and rather dates me. Thailand is actually a member of the Non-Aligned Movement since 1993 (?!?) which I guess technically means it’s Third World!

  • Alex Broner

    The reason the project costs so much is in part due to its length. Urban Honolulu is not 20 miles long yet 20 miles of rail are planned. 7 miles of the length accounts for the distance from Ala Moana center to the Airport. This is a very logical section to build as it passes near major concentrations of people and jobs not to mention service for travelers too and from the airport.

    Another 6 miles of rail is to be built on account of the location of the maintenance facility. Is this 6 miles truly needed? My analysis shows that more than sufficient land for a maintenance facility located adjacent to the airport in the form of the Navy-Marine golf course. Perhaps this land could be purchased or leased from the Navy and their golf related activities can take place at one of several other golf courses on the island? The Honolulu Country Club for example is less than a mile away. When I suggested this to HART this suggestion was dismissed because of the “disruption” that obtaining the golf course would cause. I’m not sure whether golf, even military golf counts as an essential public purpose which we must tip toe around at all cost. I don’t see any evidence from the EIS that this alternative was adequately considered.

    But WAIT! Even if we MUST spend extravagantly and build the maintenance facility where it is currently planned so as to avoid disrupting people’s golf game that STILL only accounts for 13 miles of rail. The remaining 7 miles stretch out towards (but doesn’t fully reach) Kapolei where eventually a “second city” is meant to be built. This second city is the tail that wags the dog.

    The second city in Kapolei is highly problematic for two reasons: 1. Its construction means the destruction of some of Honolulu’s most fertile farmland, and 2. There is much remaining development capacity within Honolulu.

    I’m not against developers earning a profit when it comes to providing buildings that serve the public interest but its hard to see how building a second city out in Kapolei serves the public interest. For one, building a second city will require investments in new infrastructure. Honolulu already has infrastructure. Far better to upgrade our existing infrastructure than to spend money on new infrastructure with the express purpose of paving over limited farmland. Fixing and improving on what we have will benefit both current and future residents while protecting the island’s long term food security.

    We need mass transit that provides our urban areas with enhanced mobility. Unfortunately rail only partly fits this description, with 2/3rds of its length devoted to other more dubious considerations.

    • Beta Magellan

      Definitely agreed—the line strikes me as over-long, and the Kapolei leg should be the last priority. I’m pretty sure it was included in part as a means of widening support for the project.

      I also wonder if that stretch is where most VMT growth is currently projected to occur—although dollar per rider might be lower in the more urban parts of Honolulu, measured per hour of future congestion averted that stretch might be most cost-effective (I don’t think that’s the right metric for big transit projects, but it’s a commonly-used one).

      • Adirondacker12800

        The tourists are going to be shuttling between the attractions. The people staffing the attractions have to live somewhere…. out at the end of the line you think isn’t very attractive…

      • Nathanael

        Given that people will throw absolutely any sand in the works to try to stop rail lines, I accept HART’s contention that trying to get the golf course land from the Navy (which is immune to eminent domain proceedings) would be dangerously disruptive to getting anything built.

        As for the extension from Waipahu to Kaoplei — perhaps that’s unnecessary, but it’s the cheap part, so it is wildly inappropriate to stop the entire project based on it.

        If you want to preserve the farmland, pass a farmland preservation act and use the rail service to deliver the farm workers to their jobs.

        • Andre L.

          Farmland preservation is usually the boogie man on these debates. People might want parks, but to build parks the city has to buy land. By proposing preservation of farmland, they actually want to stop development without actually having heavy farming activity (smell, dust, noise) nearby.

          • Nathanael

            Interesting. We have *real* farmland preservation laws where I live. They preserve… farmland. The smelly, noisy sort. If preserved farmland fails to be used as farmland, the local governments (a) make an effort to find an interested farmer (including providing some subsidies) and then if that doesn’t work (b) after less than a decade delists it as farmland.

            That’s farmland preservation. Apparently that’s not how it’s done elsewhere?

            • Adirondacker12800

              Depends on how they define “farmland”. I haven’t been paying attention since I moved from New Jersey. In New Jersey all you had to do to qualify as “farmland” was to sell 500 dollars a year in “farm products”. Raising purebred puppies was popular. So was cutting down trees for the tennis court and selling the wood. Neat tidy little circles of “I’ll sell you some wood and I’ll buy a puppy from you” going on.

              • Nathanael

                Yeech!

                Here all the farmland preservation laws are local (county-level or smaller). I don’t know how it is in other counties, I can only say that ours seems pretty good.

              • Adirondacker12800

                I vaguely remember that it worked for Governor Whitman. She’d have someone come out and cut down some trees and sell the wood off to a relative or crony and “make” 500 dollars. Then claim the exurban mansion was farmland and greatly reduce her property taxes. She probably bought a puppy now and then…. Farmland gets interesting in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Farmland is semi-exempt from the park preservation regulations. So the “farmers” attempts to build houses for their “farm managers”…. The ones who come and work there with their families a week or two at a time…

              • Ocean Railroader

                Personally the only real thing that I have seen that has saved our local farm land in my area was the building spree falling apart in 2010 in that I have seen housing developments and land cleared for malls revert back into glass lands for cows or into woods even with ten foot tall trees. When ever I hear farmland preservation it all sounds like a lie to me in that you know as as they put some type of easement they get all sensitive if you do try to farm something there.

              • Nathanael

                Locally, we’ve done our farmland preservation primarily through zoning, which is a big stick. Basically, designated preserved farmland can’t be rezoned away from agricultural to something else without making a serious effort to get real agriculture back in.

                And agricultural zoning prohibits a whole lot of stuff.

              • Nathanael

                I suspect ag zoning is a lot less restrictive in other areas; probably even in the next county over.

  • J Forte

    Does anyone know about platform length for the stations? I see the service is supposed to run two car trains. Are they planning on building platforms that can take longer trains in case demand is there in the future.
    Minneapolis had to close down parts of the Hiawatha to extend their platforms only a few years after building their wildly successful system.

    • Nathanael

      Because the system is going to be automated, with no grade crossings, they can run *VERY* high frequencies. This means that it’s not as important to have longer trains; Minneapolis was limited on frequencies by signalling and staffing. So Honolulu can run 3 trains in the same time Minneapolis runs 1, if it needs more capacity.

      • J Forte

        I know that train length isn’t as important with an automated system, but they are already calling at least on the HART website for 3 minute headways during rush hour, with a 2030 ridership of 116,000 per weekday. The Hiawatha, with three cars is running 10 minute headways during rush hour and carrying app. 30,000 people per day according to APTA.
        I’m just saying with two car trains only, there isn’t much room to grow, unless they bring down the headways even further.

        • Henry

          They could bring down headways a lot further. 2 minute headways are achieved on the non-automated NYC subway on certain lines, and 90 seconds is done in other countries with automated metros.

          Milan is using the same technology Honolulu is for a new line and advertises headways of 75 seconds, so Honolulu should be set for the forseeable future.

          • Nathanael

            Based on J Forte’s information, they may well have to do a signalling retrofit if ridership is above expectations.

            Well, that’s expensive but not nearly as expensive as heavy construction.

            Of note: IIRC, the very-long-term plan involved a second semi-parallel line which would probably relieve capacity as well as providing closer service to more locations. So that would probably be done if it really hit capacity.

        • Max Wyss

          It is feasible, because London’s Dockland Railways has done it. You’d have to look it up how much that extension did cost. However, it was essentially a complete system overhaul, including rolling stock, signalling system etc., and it has proven its reliability during the Olympics.

  • Dexter Wong

    It seems like one of the leaders of the anti-rail movement is trying to get the electorate to back his project of managed lanes(which favor cars over transit)even though it may not be a good solution because he feels the private car is best. While other groups have pointed out that managed lanes is not the most equitable solution (leaving out poorer drivers and bus riders). With the most affordable homes being on the west side of the island that leaves new home owners stuck in long commutes.

    • Progressive Capitalist

      HOT lanes could be shared by buses and toll-paying SOV-users. However, in order to be implemented cheaply, managed lanes should retrofit existing general purpose lanes. But that strategy would take lanes currently used by the public. Alternatively, new lanes could be built, but then, if it’s truly such a great idea, then see if a private concessionaire would even build separate new toll lanes.

      The rail proponents should calculate and pubicize the cost estimate for an exclusive “managed lanes guideway” on H1. Alternatively, they could at least do some polling of what Honolulu drivers would think of paying for lanes they currently drive for free on H1. That might be just the wake-up call needed for voters to fall in love with the parallel transit investment again.

      Sure, the majority of voters won’t regularly use the rail line after it opens. So let the voters know how the tolling alternative would hit their wallets more regularly instead. If the choice is between keeping previous tax commitments or creating new tolls, the rail project won’t look so bad.

  • Six Ranges

    Wow, just wow. Killing this project at this stage would be nothing short of asinine.

    BRT is almost always the go-to solution for rail opponents. That’s because buses are the preferred form of transit by non-transit users. If 5.3 billion were being used for a new highway, no one would bat an eyelash. 5.3 billion dollars divided by the projected ridership divided by a project lifespan of 50 years equates to about $1516 per rider per year. If ridership goes up (as they almost always do with rail projects in the US), the costs go down even further. Compare this with the costs of other modes of transit and it doesn’t seem like much. Also, the externalities of other modes, roads in particular, are often ignored. Such externatilities of the fixed guideway system are arguably much lower. Finally, BRT does not stimulate private investment in surrounding properties that rail does. Increased tax revenues would be nonexistent with a lumbering bus system along the H1.

    • Ocean Railroader

      The state of Virginia is planning on spending two billion to five billion dollars for a four lane expressway though the remote mountainous part of Virginia into West Virginia it is going to be 50 miles long though the state and carry far less people a day than this new subway system will carry a day. It’s mainly being build with the help of the state and the strip mining coal companies as away to turn former mountaintop removal sites into a finished four lane highway bed.

      • Andre L.

        Cost per rider is not significant. Cost per mile-passenger is. After all, ceteris paribus, one could expect the cost of providing 10.000 passenger a 100km trip by rail-based vehicles on segregated and grade-separated ROWs to be higher than the cost of providing 10.000 passengers a 2km trip by rail-based vehicles on segregated and grade-separated ROW – for instance.

        Any form of Intercity long distance transportation (high-speed rail, highways, airport route) will carry less passenger-individual than any urban high-capacity subway. If only cost per rider counted, all transportation investment would be centered on urban transportation only and each metropolitan area would be almost a transportation island (which is the pipe dream of some urban planners I must say).

        Still, it is a totally baseless comparison: a fast-ish link (rail or road, doesn’t matter) through a mountain ridge connecting both sides or two valleys serves a different purpose than commuter transportation. Subways in the Washington metro area will not help people and freight move faster between WV and VA and vice-versa.

        • Nathanael

          West Virginia is depopulating — except for the ‘extreme suburbs of DC’, which are along the extension of the MARC RAIL route and should be connected by RAIL to DC — and simply does not need more road capacity by any stretch of the imagination.

          • Ocean Railroader

            I’ve been to a lot of these places and the place this thing is running though there is really no large numbers of people in these areas in that it starts up in the middle of nowhere and ends in the middle of no where.

            It would save a lot of rural space and mountains if they instead spent these billions on drilling new two lane tunnels under some of these mountains to bypass the twisty and turning parts that the two lanes have to go over and down the mountains. Europe seems to have a lot of these two lane tunnels that bypass large sections of mountains it might be better off.

            There are also other places in West Virginia and Virginia in their western ends where this money could be better spent such as widening the West Virginia Turnpike to six and eight lanes or Interstate 81 to six and eight lanes first in that these roads have sharp turns and are usefully jammed packed most of the time.

            Also when you drive though West Virginia such as Charleston which is located in a deep narrow valley half the river valley is covered by the Kanawha River and the rest is covered miles of highway flyovers and other limited access projects that take up most of the space in these places.

  • Rico

    I am reasonably happy with the Vancouver’s automated system and it seems like Honolulu’s well suited for it, but the 5 billion plus seems pretty high for an elevated system. Perhaps the best plan would be to build it in phases as was suggested by one of the commentators. Another caviate would be operating and maintainance costs. When the first Skytrain opened the operating and maintanence costs did not look great compared to driver operated systems, but once ridership kicked into high gear the cost per trip looks pretty darn good…so if Honolulu is counting on low maintainance and operating costs on a per trip basis they better get their ridership. On a related note the very frequent headways likely under a system like this are great, people generally don’t bother rushing for a train because another will be along in a couple of minutes, sure takes the stress out of transfers.

  • Actually the project will provide dramatically improved transit service in a city that arguably is perfect for a major fixed-guideway transit line of this sort; which is going to be a major problem. So far I don’t see any proper solution for this.

  • Andre L.

    Automated elevated (or underground for that matter) systems are a great thing to have. They surely cost a lot to deploy, but once there, the operation costs are lower, especially if you factor in the possibility of adding late-night, special event and/or weekend services without the enormous marginal labor cost that usually comes attached to these operations.

  • David

    Your article is flawed in so many ways.

    First, even rail supporters admit that rail will not do anything to solve or reduce Honolulu’s traffic problems, it gets worse with or without rail.

    Second, as you point out Honolulu has a great bus system. The dismantling of The Bus has already begun as funds are being cut for The Bus in order to fund rail.

    Studies have shown over and over again that BRT is a much better solution for Honolulu than a fixed guideway system.

    The city and HART broke the law (see recent decision in rail court case in Honolulu) by starting construction of the system before completing surveys for native hawaiian cultural and burial sites along the route. HART has said that it would dismantle the columns if they were found to be in violation of those laws. Only ~ 30 columns have been built so far, a tiny fraction of the construction needed for the system.

    The politics of rail in Honolulu and Hawaii have been skewed by the participation of unions and particularly a union funded and controlled organization called Pacific Resource Partners that have been using their money and political power to disparage any candidate that opposes or questions the rail. These organizations had a pivotal role in the original decision to build a steel on steel fixed guideway system here. Currently they are funding huge tv advertising campaigns such as I’mua Rail which propogate lies about the system. (Their commercials show UH students as a prime candidate for people taking rail, but the rail won’t go anywhere near UH Manoa or anywhere else that most people will need to go.)

    It’s doubtful that the city will be able to afford to maintain and operate this system based on their current fiscal situation without other tax increases or cuts to other programs, such as the bus, which serves all of the Honolulu and Oahu. The fixed guideway will only go to Ala Moana Shopping Center and will not actually go to Waikiki or downtown Honolulu or UH.

    These arguments have been ignored by pro-rail factions, that includes developers and unions that will profit from the huge government spending program and development that comes with rail.

    -David Kahn

    • Adirondacker12800

      The people on the train don’t get stuck in car traffic, so it solves the car traffic problem for them.

      • Nathanael

        Exactly. If you’re idiot enough to drive a car in Honolulu, there will likely be enough other idiots driving cars in Honolulu to fill up the roads. (If we take a thousand cars off the road, joyriders will start cruising.) But if you want to get out of that rat race, you’ll be able to take the train.

        As for “huge government spending program”, look at the massively excessive road system in what is actually a tiny group of islands. You did not need an expressway; what does it save, twenty seconds? How much did it cost, and how much land did it take?

        Contrary to your statement, studies have shown over and over that a fixed guideway system is much much better for Honolulu than so-called BRT, which has not really worked anywhere.

        The politics of rail in Honolulu have been skewed by the involvement of oil company lobbies, which love the captive market where they can charge whatever they like. Currently they appear to have a former governor in their pocket, probably by bamboozling him.

  • David

    I would also like to point out that I am not anti-mass transit, or anti-rail.

    Contrary to your article, rail does not make sense (at least as it is currently being proposed and planned) in Honolulu. They could do a lot more with a lot less money by building HOT lanes and adding BRT and expanding The Bus.

    -David

    • Nathanael

      No, they couldn’t. They’d spend more money (if they built full-scale BRT), and they’d get much worse finantial and ridership results (running oil-fueled, labor-intensive, less-popular buses, rather than electricity-powered, automated, more-popular trains)

    • Claire

      I believe the HOT with BRT option would fail the social justice analysis in an EIS. The population that would be most served by the current rail plan includes a lower-income demographic than, for instance, the population that lives in east Oahu and on the windward side.

      Both of these parts of the island received major traffic improvements (Kalanianaole Highway widening and H-3, and the H-3 project came at great expense for the small population that was served. The west side of the island has really gotten the shaft with respect to traffic solutions that significantly improved travel.

      The west side is where the population is growing the fastest and this is the part of the island that new growth is directed to according to land use plans.

  • Grad

    David,

    The proposed rail system will have a stop downtown. There is a map of the route at: http://www.honolulutransit.org/rail-system-guide/interactive-route-map.aspx

    Downtown is stop 18. It shows a travel time of 4 minutes from Ala Moana to downtown, 16 minutes from Ala Moana to the airport and 42 minutes from Ala Moana to East Kapolei.

    Would you happen to have a link to the studies showing BRT is better for Honolulu? From what I know about BRT and rail, I have a hard time understanding that one. It seems that BRT either takes existing traffic lanes from autos or requires specially build guideways which costs a a lot of money.

    Also, I believe that students will be able to get to UH from the west side by taking the rail and transitting at Ala Moana Center to the bus for the remainder of the trip. I recall that future spurs were envisioned to go directly to UH as well as Waikiki from Ala Moana. I think that was not part of phase 1 due mainly to cost.

    The map above rally drives home Yonah’s point that Honolulu is geographically prefect for rail as you have the mountains to the north, the water to the south and from what I hear, the military doesn’t want any bridge across Pearl Harbor so all traffic must go through the small corridor north of the harbor.

    • Nathanael

      Bingo. It is really astounding how anti-rail forces will make up absolutely anything to claim that rail is “inappropriate” absolutely everywhere.

      This is probably the single best rail project in the US from a technical perspective and from the perspective of population geography making it suitable for rail. David would know this if he had done any research. Worse-designed projects (Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis) have been smashing successes.

      I think there’s got to be some element of siderodromophobia going on, because the opposition is *so irrational*.

      • Dexter Wong

        Well, the chief opponent of rail is Cliff Slater, retired businessman and speaker with the American Dream Foundation, a think tank that believes the private auto is the best form of transportation. For over 20 years, he has written columns in the local newspapers and letters to the editor against rail, public bus service and bus rapid transit.In one column he suggested that Atlantic City’s private jitney service was a model for Honolulu. (Never mind that Honolulu is ten times larger than Atlantic City.) He had stated for years that Houston was one of the best cities because it had no rail system (then a few years ago Houston built a light rail line and it is continuing to expand it into a system).

  • Henry

    Personally I don’t believe that really any project can be far along enough to be immune to shutting down unless they’re actually just building station platforms at that point.

    After all, Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok, to name a few places, have all trashed projects in various stages of completion. In America, the Second Avenue Subway and the Archer Avenue Subway are two notable projects that were never fully built out (although the SAS will be finished in maybe half a century, if you want to be generous). Even the 63rd St tunnel was stopped prematurely (although making it 1000 ft shorter was stupidity of the worst kind).

    • Buckeyeman

      It’s plenty bad enough to stop any rail project before any construction has been started but when something gets trashed after any construction at all has been done, that’s absolute abject stupidity. the two projects mentioned in New York were stopped when they were because of the financial crisis the city was having at the time. I certainly have to agree with having the 63rd St. tunnel stopping 1,000 feet prematurely wasn’t exactly a stroke of genius though.

      • Nathanael

        The 1970s NYC financial crisis was a particularly nightmarish scenario politically as well as financially, what with “Ford to City: Drop Dead” and all that.

        It was a sign that the US wasn’t taking care of its most important (at the time, anyway) city. Eventually the state injected money into the city finances (using a bizarre mechanism, the “Municipal Assistance Corporation”, which gave some of the highest-interest-rate bonds which were really safe ever), but a lot of projects had gotten suspended indefinitely first.

        Thankfully that’s the worst example in the US. The Jakarta, Manila, and Bangkok examples are pretty awful, and I do consider those to be signs of third-world-country behavior.

        • Adirondacker12800

          That’s because even back then the subsidies went to the Real Americans(tm) I seem to remember the term back then was “Silent Majority”. The Federal government sucks money out of the rich places – New York City was an is a rich place – and redistributes it to the places where people sit around and whine about how much the gubbermint is spending out of one side of their mouth and complain about how the guvmint isn’t subsidizing them enough out of the other.

  • Honolulu is one of the densest cities in the country and this rail project’s only flaw is that it doesn’t go all the way to Waikiki, which would make it a slam-dunk success from day one if for no other reason than all the Japanese tourists (they could probably even charge non-residents full fare and make the thing almost profitable).

  • Marco

    Anti-Rail mayoral candidate Cayetano loses and rail is back on track.

    • John Bredin

      Unless the Hawaii Supreme Court injunction has been lifted, or HART completed an archaeological survey of the entire route in record time, rail isn’t back on track just because Cayetano lost. His defeat was a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. :^)

  • Dexter Wong

    It was just reported that the Honolulu archeological survey is now two months ahead of schedule, so it can wrap up by the end of the year. The Oahu Burial Council is also satisfied with the handling of human remains so there will be less trouble with that. If Judge Takashima doesn’t issue a permanent injunction in December then rail can move ahead. Construction could resume by the second or third quarter of next year.

    • Nathanael

      If the surveys are done by the end of the year, construction could be resumed by February or March, I would think.

      • Dexter Wong

        That information came from KITV news. A later story from the Star-Advertiser states that once the archeological survey is done, construction can resume early next year.

  • Marco

    Hey Ben, Congress just approved $1.55 Billion for Honolulu rail. Ben previously said:

    “Finally, Marco assumes that the Congress will approve the $1.5 billion requested by the City for its proposed rail project. That is quite a stretch. The city has no “Plan B” to cover cost overruns and is relying solely on Dan Inouye to get Congress to approve the $1.5 billion.”

  • Dexter Wong

    The Federal Transit Administration has finally signed the Full Funding Agreement with Honolulu. Now, all that is needed is for the judge not to issue an injunction against HART and it will begin construction next year.

  • Dexter Wong

    Judge Wallace Tashima has ruled that Honolulu can continue to build the first three phases (Kapolei to the edge of town) of the Rail project (after the archeological survey is finished), but needs to re-examine certain features of the fourth phase (in-town) before construction can can be approved. These include the effects on Mother Waldron Park and a tunnel under Beretania Street. By not halting all construction, this can be considered a victory for the City. (A complete halt on construction would be devastating to the project.)

  • Dexter Wong

    HART (Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) has announced that archeological survey work has been completed (so actual work can begin).

  • Dexter Wong

    As of today, Feb. 18, 2014, the last two legal challenges to the Rail Project were decided in favor of the City and County of Honolulu. Construction and purchase of the land for the city portion of the line can proceed without fear of any further legal challenges. However, the city has spent 5.1 Million dollars on this suit against 1 Million spent by opponents (who have exhausted their legal efforts).

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