Honolulu Rail Round Up – June 1, 2010

Chicago EL Steel on Steel
article top
Chicago EL Steel on Steel


date May 27, 2010.


Setting the record straight on rail’s financial risk:

This past Monday, May 25, at a City Council Budget Committee hearing, we set the record straight by entering into the record of the meeting two documents.

The first was a two-page excerpt from the Federal Transit Administration’s latest comparison of projected transit construction costs with actual cost outcomes. While Director Yoshioka had said at a previous Council meeting that the latest openings of transit systems showed they all came in on budget, the actual record shows that only one came in on budget and all rest were over when comparing the estimates at entry into Preliminary Engineering with the final costs. Note that the average cost overrun was 40.2 percent. That kind of a cost overrun on our $5.3 billion project would be over $2 billion.

Second, we introduced the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Annual Report for 2009. (See below “MTC shocker”)

We emphasized to the Council the $78 billion maintenance backlog for the nation’s transit systems. It begs the question, if virtually all the nation’s rail systems are having financial difficulties why should we be exempt?

date May 24, 2010.

MTC shocker — “Bay Area transit not sustainable”:

The San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) recently published their 2009 Annual Report. The Commission was created by the California State Legislature in 1970, and is the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the entire nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

Here are some excerpts from the 2009 Annual Report:

“Even before the worst shocks of the current crisis began to be felt the Commission reached a perhaps inevitable conclusion: “The current transit system is not sustainable …

“For starters, we simply don’t have enough money to fund our Bay Area transit system — not just today, but in the future as well. The long-range regional transportation plan adopted by the Commission in April 2009, Transportation 2035: Change in Motion, forecasts a huge, $25 billion shortfall in transit funding between now and the year 2033 (see chart on page 8). On the operating side, our projections show a cumulative deficit of $8 billion, which is almost 10 percent of the overall operating costs of the system. The outlook is even worse on the capital side, where available revenues to replace worn-out vehicles and the like are expected to come in $17 billion shy of our projected needs, a deficit amounting to over 40 percent of the total needed. Looking at it another way, we will fall short of the resources our regional transit system needs by a cool $1 billion a year over the next quarter-century.”

They go on to say that the situation is not acceptable but their only concrete proposal to remedy it is to have a significant hike in taxes. They have already hiked fares, cut service levels and instituted user fees at many park and ride lots.

To put this in context with other transit lines, please remember that FTA Administrator Rogoff said Tuesday last (see May 22 below) that the nation’s transit lines are, in total, $78 billion behind in bringing their systems up to a barely acceptable level of service.

date May 23, 2010.

Doubts about rail’s future expressed in FTA internal memo:

In a January 23, 2010, posting we wrote a memo titled “What is a Letter of No Prejudice?” In it we quoted from an internal FTA Memorandum that preceded the permission they gave the City to enter Preliminary Engineering. However, we were remiss in not linking to the document itself and not quoting some of its more salient comments. Above we link to it and following is one passage that bridges the last two pages of this eight-page document. The full document is worth reading.

“… the City anticipates circulation of the FEIS shortly after PE approval and receipt of a Record of Decision (ROD) shortly after the FEIS circulation period concludes. With environmental clearance of the project, the City hopes to receive approval from FTA through a Letter of No Prejudice to break ground on the westernmost 6-miIe segment sometime in December. This schedule appears unlikely due to the delay of the FEIS for the reasons enumerated above in the NEPA section of this document.

“Finally, while the City already has in place a dedicated funding source, project costs have reached a point where they exceed the projected capacity of that source. Further, collections have under-run projections made before the current economic downturn. The financial plan calls for the use of FTA Section 5307 formula funds for nearly a decade to cover remaining capital costs. A look-ahead by FTA’s financial contractor suggests that these difficulties may cause the financial plan to fail the financial stress tests that will be applied when the City requests entry into final design. Consequently, financial issues may pose difficulties sufficient to put at risk the City’s anticipated initiation of final design in early 2010. An early warning of this risk has been included in the PE approval letter.”

date May 22, 2010.

We now have the Draft Final EIS for the rail project:

This latest Draft Final Environmental Impact Statement is the one revised through October 12, 2009. We are starting to work our way through it and would appreciate any comments you have about any major changes since the Draft EIS. Please send your comments to info@honolulutraffic.com. We have also linked to the Draft Final EIS on our NEPA process docs tab

FTA warns about the expense of rail transit:

In a speech made at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston last Tuesday, Peter Rogoff, the head of the Federal Transit Administration made some surprising remarks. Here is an excerpt together with a video of him making the speech:

“Supporters of public transit must be willing to share some simple truths that folks don’t want to hear. One is this — Paint is cheap, rails systems are extremely expensive.

“Yes, transit riders often want to go by rail. But it turns out you can entice even diehard rail riders onto a bus, if you call it a “special” bus and just paint it a different color than the rest of the fleet.

Once you’ve got special buses, it turns out that busways are cheap. Take that paint can and paint a designated bus lane on the street system. Throw in signal preemption, and you can move a lot of people at very little cost compared to rail.

“A little honesty about the differences between bus and rail can have some profound effects.

“Earlier I pointed out that our new estimate for the deferred maintenance backlog for the entire transit universe is roughly $78 billion. But you should know that fully 75 percent of that figure is to replace rail assets.

“Now let’s remember that the majority of transit trips in this country are still done by bus. When it comes to delivering actual transit service, Americans take 21 percent more transit trips every year than rail trips. That said, fully three quarters of the funding backlog we face in achieving a state of good repair is associated with underfunded rail assets.

“Communities deciding between bus and rail investments need to stare those numbers in the face. Some communities might be tempted to pay the extra cost for shiny new rails now. But they need to be mindful of the costs they are teeing up for future generations.”

The full speech, which is available online on the FTA website, is worth reading if only to learn that while the busiest seven rail transit systems have a maintenance backlog of $50 billion, the others add another $28 billion for a $78 billion backlog total. And that total only brings these systems into an marginally acceptable condition, what is called “a state of good repair,” a condition with half the score of an “excellent” condition.

[Our thanks to Randal O’Toole and Dale Evans for bringing this speech to our attention.]