Honolulu Traffic Wrap Up: BRTs, Federal Transportation Funding and More

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City's rail rendering


Let’s all get our heads around the idea of “sunk costs”:


In an article titled “Sunk Costs: There’s no crying over spilt milk,” Steven Horwitz discusses in Freeman Magazine the situation we are likely to find ourselves in with rail in a few months. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the article:

“An implication of this point is that costs that have already been incurred and that will not change with any of the specific choices now at the margin should be irrelevant to one’s decision. These are what we call sunk costs: The resources cannot be recovered, hence the costs are sunk. Such sunk costs should not matter for one’s next decision; only the costs now at the margin of choice count. No matter what we choose next, we can’t change the fact that we spent those resources in the past.

“The idea of the irrelevance of sunk costs is all around us in folk wisdom and other places. For example, good poker players understand the idea when they say, “Don’t throw good money after bad.” Sometimes novice players will think, “Well, I’ve already bet five dollars on this hand, so I might as well see it through.” Good poker players know this is bad thinking: What matters is whether your hand is worth making the next bet. That you’ve bet five dollars already is beside the point. Bygones are bygones. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. There’s no crying over spilled milk.”

TID: “Are Transportation Bill Negotiations on the Rocks?”

Today’s Transportation Issues Daily newsletter carried this story:

“This will likely be a critical week for the transportation bill. Senator Boxer, chair of the Senate-House negotiations committee (aka “conference committee”) is expected to convene negotiators for a public meeting, likely later in the week. As a result of that meeting we should get a clearer picture of the progress of negotiations. However, don’t be surprised if we start to hear rumblings about the negotiations early in the week.

“For weeks nearly all the comments about negotiations have been positive. Senator Boxer went so far as to claim 80% of the issues were essentially resolved. We were encouraged, even though many of the comments from some Members seemed like trial balloons and wishful thinking.

“Last week, however, the optimism began to fade.

First, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor hinted that negotiators won’t reach a deal, and that Republicans will be agreeable to an extension of SAFETEA-LU. The Hill’s Pete Kasperowicz reports:

“Cantor indicated that there is no agreement yet because Republicans are less eager to spend the amount of money that Democrats want to spend.

“The problem remains … just not enough money to address all the things that the country is experiencing in terms of the needs for roads and infrastructure repair, as well as needed expansion,” he said. “We all are mindful of the limited resources that are available to address these needs.”

“There are also a limited number of legislative days left in the year, and Congress faces a number of issues that will probably trump transportation for debate and voting time. In fact, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer responded to Cantor, commenting that “there are just a few dozen workdays left in the House before the November elections, and that major issues are coming up, such as whether to let the Bush administration tax levels expire and what to do n payroll taxes, the Alternative Minimum Tax and the debt limit.”

Our note: Despite all the reassuring noises emanating from our political establishment, rail’s federal funding is not a done deal.

More data with which to revisit the 2003 BRT project:

One of the benefits of prying the Administrative Record for the Rail Project out of the hands of the City and FTA is that we now have a searchable version of the 2003 Final EIS for the BRT Project. It is a  205 megabyte file so you might consider to start downloading before you go to bed and you’ll have it in the morning — the SAVE it.

We do have a hard copy of Volume II and we have scanned the BRT Refined Locally Preferred Alternative Cash Flow sheets from it. This is a four page set 11″ x 17″ page size. We hope to have the rest of it sometime in the future.

Another trip down Memory Lane:

At the time that Parsons Brinckerhoff was proposing the 2003 Bus/Rapid Transit program, this is what they wrote on page 2-57 in the 2003 Final EIS for the BRT:

“The concerns that led to the rejection of the most recently proposed elevated rapid transit system were primarily two: (1) its high cost and (2) its physical and visual impacts.

“Previous studies have shown that construction of a subway through Honolulu’s urban core would be prohibitively expensive. The extreme disruption of existing underground utilities and constant dewatering made necessary by a high water table and poor soils would drive construction costs to unacceptable levels ($3.6 billion in 2002 dollars for a 12.8-mile system along the presently proposed In-Town BRT alignment ). While an elevated guideway would be less costly than a subway, such a system would still be substantially more expensive and visually more obtrusive than an at-grade system. The elevated system proposed most recently was abandoned when elected policymakers would not approve a local funding mechanism that required an increase in taxes. A 12.8-mile elevated rapid transit system along the presently proposed In-Town BRT alignment would cost on the order of $1.95 billion in 2002 dollars. By comparison, the In-Town BRT costs are estimated at approximately $240 million in 2002 dollars, assuming hybrid diesel-electric technology and approximately $325 million assuming embedded plate technology.

“Public input received in hundreds of Vision Team and Oahu Trans 2K meetings and workshops attended by thousands of Oahu residents revealed widespread agreement that while an elevated transit system might serve the goals of improving in-town mobility and strengthening connections between communities, such a system would not foster livable communities. The predominant sentiment among thousands of participants was that a grade-separated transit system would be unacceptably: (1) intrusive on the visual environment; (2) divisive of communities; and (3) too expensive. These shortcomings were judged by public participants to outweigh the recognized benefits of a grade-separated system, i.e., high speed and capacity, increased reliability and reduced negative impact on the surface road system.

“Honolulu’s failure to complete the proposed elevated transit system a decade ago, and extensive public input into the current process, confirmed that a grade-separated system could not, because of its high costs, visual obtrusiveness, and community divisiveness, gain the level of local public and/or official acceptance necessary to sustain such an investment.”

Then, 18 months later PB turned on a dime and recommended heavy rail. All this stuff might make a good novel.


Confusion reigns over October 2011 PMOC Report:

Those of you who follow City Council Committee Meetings will have noticed that Cliff Slater has been carrying a thick three-ring binder that is the October 2011 PMOC Report. Some folks have been told that the PMOC Report is on the HART website and it is but they are not the same report.

We have compared the two PMOC Reports dated October 2011 and they are different ones. The shorter 42-page version is the PMOC Monthly Report and the longer 330-page one is simply “PMOC Report.” While they have the same PMOC Contract Number, the Project No. is different as is the Work Order No; and the OP’s referenced. One would think that they would make titles distinctly different, but they did not. The HART one may be found here. The longer one is here with all the Risk details including the important Risk Register, which we are linking separately since the files are large. Our notes and excerpts on the PMOC Report are here.





  1. Cliff Slater has never supported anything but toll roads. He wants more lanes, more cars, more traffic, more taxes (in the form of tolls) and more urban sprawl. Mr. Slater helped kill BRT. He celebrated when it died, saying things like “there is a God in Heaven” and “the long night of the BRT fiasco may well be over.” He cites the BRT study not because he agrees with it, but it gives him a basis to attack rail. If there were a BRT proposal before the city he would use the rail study to attack it.

  2. The longest running hoax in the media, with the sole exception of H.L. Mencken’s Bathtub Hoax, is this idea that we opposed the BRT program. Let’s get it straight: The BRT program was composed of two elements, the Regional BRT program, which we favored, and the In-Town BRT program that we, and virtually the entire ground transportation industry, vigorously opposed. This was a crazy scheme to use two lanes in the center of Ala Moana and Kapiolani Boulevards, exclusively for BRT buses. On these very busy roads it would be nuts. We opposed it then; we would oppose it today. That is why we suggested then, and we suggest today, the use of King and Beretania Streets, not necessarily for exclusive use.

    • The words of none other than Cliff Slater himself, November 11, 2002:

      “THE BRT fiasco finally ending.”

      “There is a God in Heaven! We will shortly have a new Honolulu City
      Council. And, joy of joys, I find after brief research that a majority are
      firmly opposed to the Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) program. The long
      night of the BRT fiasco may well be over.”

      I guess he forgot to mention the “part” he says he liked. It certainly wasn’t what the city proposed.

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