BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – A 10-page memo on the city’s planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project, created by the city’s rail authority, and distributed by the Department of Planning and Permitting to city employees, has some council members and rail opponents questioning the city administration’s motives.
The May 8, 2012 document entitled Internal Memo, covers such topics as why the rail should be built; whether it will reduce traffic; whether the city can afford to build, operate and maintain the system; whether the rail will be on budget; why the city is requesting an additional $450 million in commercial paper from the city council; the benefits of rail; why there aren’t more seats on the rail; and why people should support the project, even if it does not go to their community.
(See the memo here: InformationonRail-05-08-2012)
Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi questioned why the administration is distributing the memo to city employees when the rail project is already underway. She also questioned the facts in the memo and the cost to taxpayers to prepare the extensive report.
City Spokesperson Louise Kim McCoy said the Q&A was done at no extra cost by HART staff to provide information to some frequently asked questions.
“Many of our city employees requested the information from HART so that they can answer questions as they arise,” McCoy said.
She said Wayne Miyashiro, an employee at the Department of Planning and Permitting, distributed the memo to city employees in his department.
Honolulu Transportation Expert Cliff Slater, who runs HonoluluTraffic.com and is one of 7 plaintiffs challenging the validity of the rail project’s Environmental Impact Statement in federal court, said there are several inaccuracies in the memo.
For example, the city claims in the memo “it will take 40,000 vehicle trips off our congested roads and highways each weekday.”
Slater countered: “That sounds good. However, Table 3-12 in the Final EIS shows that if the City doesn’t build rail, population growth would add 525,000 cars to the road. If it does build rail, population growth less the minor effect from rail, would still add 476,000 cars to the road. So, in round numbers, it means we would have a half million more car trips every day whether we build rail or not ! Some benefit for spending $5.2 billion (and counting).”
“Put another way. the increase in automobile trips with the rail project compared to today will be a 21 percent increase. The increase under the “No-Build” projection, that is if we do nothing, is 23 percent (nobody is suggesting we do nothing). In short, we get 21 percent more autos on the road with rail and 23 percent without it. Some benefit for $5.2 billion (and counting).”
The memo said “Commuters taking rail will have zero congestion”:
Slater said: “Tell that to the 80 percent of rail commuters who will be standing in “crush” mode for as long as 40 minutes from East Kapolei to Downtown.”
The city claimed: “it will be less expensive to maintain and operate a combination rail-bus system than an all-bus system.”
Slater said operations do not cover the capital costs. “You cannot ignore the huge capital costs and the ongoing refurbishing and replacement costs,” Slater said.
The city said: “Freeing buses from routes that the train will serve will allow the city to redirect those buses…”
Slater said: “They don’t tell you they plan of discontinuing express bus routes many of which will get commuters to work faster than the train with all its bus/rail/bus hassle.”
The city claimed a number of rail construction projects have come in on time and on budget:
Slater said: “That’s just not true when you compare the final costs compared with the Final EIS projection. Of the four we were able to check against the official FTA appraisal. Three were over budget, St. Louis Metrolink +34%, Salt Lake City +21%, Denver +12 percent, Dallas -3.9 percent.”
City officials claimed: The rail system will be “green,” reducing Oahu’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Slater countered: “This is grossly misleading since they are not comparing the likely usage of suburb-oriented rail lines such as ours would be with TheBus actual energy use. TheBus is one of the most efficient bus systems in the nation and would use less than half the energy per passenger mile as rail. Even autos use less energy per passenger mile than trains.”
The city reports: There is also the potential for new investments totaling billions of dollars near rail stations, or transit-oriented development, which could include affordable housing, commercial centers and recreation areas. As other cities have seen, these developments can boost our local economy on a sustainable basis. Transit-oriented development encourages livable, walkable communities and promotes healthier lifestyles.
Slater said: “This is total guff, properly called Developer Oriented Transit. They do not tell you that all these TODs are subsidized thus incurring a heavier load of taxes for existing homeowners. Everyone who is pro TODs should be forced to visit some of them.”
The city officials said: “there are successful new rail projects in areas with populations fewer than 900,000.”
Slater said: “The federal government compares contiguous urban areas known as MSAs. On that basis we are the 56th in size in the country and most of them that are larger than us do not have rail lines.”
University of Hawaii Engineering Professor Panos Prevedouros also noted there are a number of inaccurate claims in the city memo, which he called “city propaganda to its employees.”
For example, the city said “Finmeccanica, the parent company of AnsladoBreda [that won the bid to build the Honolulu trains] remains financially solid.”
Prevedouros said: “Two facts that speak to the quality of info disseminated by the City: (1) Finmeccanica has been downgraded to a low status: Moody’s downgrades Finmeccanica to Baa2 and (2) When Ansaldo was awarded the contract Finmeccanica traded at over 8 euro. Throughout 2012 it’s been trading under 4 euro and recent stock price is near 2.5 euro.”
McCoy didn’t address questions about the accuracy of the memo, but said it will be posted on the city rail authority’s web site.