BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Former Democratic Gov. Benjamin Cayetano backed his political rival Republican Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday saying she shouldn’t rush to approve the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed $5.5 billion Honolulu rail system without first reviewing the document carefully.
That may seem like common sense, but Hawaii’s most powerful Senior Senator, Daniel K. Inouye, is “begging” Lingle to sign the EIS immediately before it ever reaches her desk.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who resigned July 20 to run for governor, and the temporary acting Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell, are pushing Lingle into signing the EIS. By waiting, rail proponents say the governor is holding up job creation and economic growth and will cost the city the federal funding for the project. Mayor Hannemann claims the governor has received a copy.
However, the governor maintains that she has never seen the EIS. Her spokesperson Russell Pang told Hawaii Reporter that the 15,000-page document, along with an estimated 13,000 public comments, are being reviewed by the Department of Health Environmental Quality Control Division.
In addition, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Division is involved with the “programmatic agreement”, which covers how discovery of native Hawaiian burials and other cultural artifacts would be addressed, Pang says, adding that the State Historic Preservation Division must reach an agreement with the FTA and the City.
The governor, who maintains she is a strong rail supporter, requested an independent financial assessment for the rail project, to determine whether Oahu’s population of 905,000 can afford the system.
Today, the Hawaii State Department of Transportation announced that the $300,000 state contract has been awarded to Infrastructure Management Group Inc. in association with CB Richard Ellis. The funds are from the state highway fund.
The Governor also requested updated financial information that the City & County of Honolulu, which it provided to the FTA. The last financial report issued for the project is dated August 2009.
Should the governor sign the EIS, it would be a major step for rail proponents.
Without cost overruns, the 20-mile elevated steel-on-steel rail system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center would be the most expensive rail system in the country on a per capita basis.
Cayetano points out that rail projects, on average, have cost overruns of 40 percent, according to Federal Transit Administration data.
“I always thought the rail is too expensive for Hawaii,” says Cayetano, who was in Hawaii’s House, Senate, Lt. Governor’s seat and then governor over a 32-year period up until 2002. He also served as House and Senate transportation chairs.
The lesson learned from the now defunct Hawaii Superferry, which closed after environmental activists took the ferry and state to court over an EIS requirement, dictates that the governor be careful and responsible, Cayetano says.
“The FTA makes mistakes and there is a great deal of politicking behind the scenes because there are jobs and power at stake,” Cayetano says. He notes that politicians back the rail because it allows them to be for something, and by the time it comes to fruition and the bills come due, they are out of office.
Honolulu Transportation expert Cliff Slater, who appeared on a panel with Cayetano yesterday at a Grassroot Institute of Hawaii forum at the Pacific Club in Honolulu along with Author and Professor Randall Roth, says the media has not adequately covered the rail issue. Slater, the founder of HONOLULUTRAFFIC.COM notes that while city officials claim the rail will lessen congestion and create jobs, that the city admits in the EIS that traffic conjestions with rail in the future will be worse than it is today.
The Hawaii working population, ages 20 to 64, also is predicted to decline from now until 2030, which Slater says is a significant issue because it will impact the city’s already inflated ridership projections of the rail.
The U.S. Department of Energy data also shows that it is unlikely that the rail will not save Hawaii on energy costs.
“With all these factors, there is doubt if rail line is worth expenditure of $5.5 billion and counting,” Slater says. “The EIS is a problematic agreement – how can this be the environmentally preferred alternative when the rail is going to be 30-feet wide, 40-feet up in the air, along the waterfront and historic districts, down Halekauwila Street, which is just 36-feet wide, with trains running every minute and a half?
Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, at Malia@hawaiireporter.com