SECOND OPINION by Cliff Slater
February 16, 2004
It all started out quite sensibly. The City proposed a Regional Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) plan that would provide an unobstructed run for buses using zipper lanes along the Leeward Corridor to Downtown with time savings of 25 minutes.[i] This appeared to make sense even though Kazu Hayashida, then State Department of Transportation (DOT) director had problems with it for both financial and engineering reasons.[ii]
Then the City added an In-Town BRT, which would mesh with the Regional BRT from Downtown and provide two legs, one to UH and the other to Waikiki using special 120-passenger buses that would stop every half-mile. They would use exclusive lanes, which would be taken out of the existing roadways. There would be further timesavings of 14 minutes from Downtown to UH, and 3 minutes to Waikiki.[iii]
While all this was great for bus riders, private transportation providers and UH traffic experts noted that the use of exclusive lanes in town would have a terrible impact on traffic congestion. Traffic congestion in town is already bad enough; taking road space away from existing traffic would cause a traffic nightmare. As the Hawaii Transportation Association put it – “chaos.”[iv]
But the juggernaut rolled on and a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) was published showing clearly that work on the Regional BRT would be concurrent with that of the In-Town BRT.[v] However, the new DOT Director, Brian Minaai reacted negatively to the Regional BRT in even stronger language than had Hayashida.[vi]
We believe that sometime after the March 2002 issue of the SDEIS, the City decided that the Regional BRT was not going to fly because of the state’s opposition.
In addition, in the newly drafted, though unreleased, Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS),[vii] the city’s consultants had dramatically reduced the earlier projected the Downtown to UH timesavings of 13.6 minutes to a miniscule 1.8 minutes and on the Waikiki leg to just 1.9 minutes.[viii]
This posed a problem because the Regional BRT had provided virtually all the timesavings; the In-Town BRT alone would not be able pass the rigorous scrutiny that is required for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding.[ix]
Thus, with no Regional BRT and miniscule timesavings from the In-Town BRT, the concept was born of building a starter line from Iwilei to Waikiki, which would require less than $25 million in federal funds and, under FTA’s rules, allow the project to escape the FTA’s usual scrutiny.[x]
And so, in June 2002, amid much scurrying around, the Council passed $31 million in funding for this initial leg to match $20 million in federal funding.
Furthermore, the gubernatorial election was looming, Mayor Harris had decided to drop out of the race and the likely incoming Governor was Linda Lingle, who had already publicly announced her opposition to the In-Town BRT because of its traffic causing problems.
To get around that obstacle, the City published a special FEIS, which, unlike the earlier EISs,[xi] was not a single volume joint City/FTA effort. This one complied only with Hawaii Environmental laws[xii] and not National ones. Governor Cayetano accepted this FEIS for the state just before leaving office.
This state FEIS posed the Iwilei-Waikiki line as the first phase of the whole BRT program; it did not say that the Regional BRT idea had been shelved but rather showed it being built several years later.
The starter line idea was not the City’s ideal solution but rather the best political compromise that could be made. The idea was that it would give the City a foot in the door that would almost certainly lead to further expansion of BRT; government projects often evolve this way.[xiii]
In October 2003, after much wrangling with the FTA, the City produced what is called the federal FEIS, since it is a document that complies with National Environmental Policy[xiv] but not Hawaii’s.
The federal FEIS is the first time that we hear of the term Initial Operating Segment (IOS) used for the Iwilei to Waikiki line, which the City termed the first phase of the full BRT program. However, in its promotional activities, the city made the case that the IOS should be considered alone and objected to opponents raising the issue of the consequences of building the full In-Town BRT.
A month after the federal FEIS, the FTA issued a new decision, approving only the IOS and requiring further environmental study if the City wished to construct anything further.[xv]
In December 2003, in response to a federal lawsuit, the FTA told the Court that the City had not even applied for federal funding for the IOS and spelled out the various hoops the City had to jump through in order for funding to be granted.[xvi]
Nevertheless, faced with the $31 million in City funds lapsing at the end of calendar 2003,[xvii] the City awarded successful bidders the IOS construction work on the last day of the year despite having no federal funding. Only a federal court requirement that the City not begin work before a February hearing date has so far prevented the start of construction.
And in the FTA’s new report on rapid transit projects we find that the Honolulu’s full BRT project — of which the IOS is supposedly only one part — has been dropped from its list of approved projects.[xviii]
And so what does that leave us with? The IOS, which all transportation professionals agree (except the city’s), will wreak havoc with traffic congestion. It will not save time, except under limited circumstances, since for travel between its main termini, Downtown and Waikiki, the existing City Express Route B will still be faster.[xix] And for travel along Ala Moana Boulevard, the IOS will be slightly faster than routes 19, 20 and 42 only because these buses stop frequently whereas the IOS — inconveniently — only stops a little under every half mile.[xx]
Ala Moana to Waikiki travelers will be harmed because of these infrequent stops since the existing bus route 8 will be discontinued. And windward shoppers taking routes 55, 56, and 57 to Ala Moana Center will be handicapped since these routes are being terminated downtown and riders will have to transfer to the IOS.[xxi]
The BRT has gone from vision to vestige; someone should put it out of its misery.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist who footnoted columns can be found at www.lava.net/cslater
[ii] During both the Major Investment Study/Draft Environmental Impact Study (MIS/DEIS) and the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Study (SDEIS) processes of the BRT project, both Brian Minaai, the then current Director of the State Department of Transportation (HDOT) , and his predecessor, Kazu Hayashida, commented on their environmental and engineering objections. (see second FEIS, Vol. 3, Chapter 7, Comments and Responses: State Agencies, pp. 17-32 unnumbered or http://www.oahutrans2k.com/feis/state.pdf pp. 18-32).
[iii] Major Investment Study/Draft Environmental Impact Study (MIS/DEIS), page 4-6.
[v] Supplementary Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Primary Corridor Transportation Project. March 2002. Table 2.5-1, page 2-27.
[vi] See footnote #2 above.
[vii] This refers to the state FEIS issued in November 2002.
[xi] The predecessors of the FEISs were two: The Major Information Study/Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Primary Corridor Transportation Project. August 2002. (MIS/DEIS), and the Supplementary Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Primary Corridor Transportation Project. March 2002. (SDEIS).
[xvii] The City Council had approved funding in June 2002 which would lapse after December 31, 2003.
[xviii] In its Annual Report on New Starts for Fiscal Year 2004 to Congress, the Honolulu Primary Corridor Transportation Project is listed as a project recommended for preliminary engineering, the second of three steps to the New Starts grant approval process on Table 1-A. The 2004 Annual Report is dated January 23, 2003. In the Annual Report on New Starts For Fiscal Year 2005, however, the Project disappears from the list of projects recommended for preliminary engineering.
[xix] TheBus time table for Route B shows 24 minutes as the elapsed time taken from Downtown to Waikiki using the same starting and ending points as projected for the IOS taking 25-30 minutes per the FEIS, S-2.
[xx] These three routes are comparable with the IOS along the same route; all three follow Ala Moana Boulevard from Punchbowl Street to Monsarrat in Waikiki. While the IOS uses projected travel times, the other three bus routes are using actual travel times.
Route 42, for example, has actual 27-40 minutes of in-vehicle time versus a projected 25-30 minutes for the IOS. The IOS vehicle will make far fewer stops — this gives the IOS vehicle a greater speed advantage but is a major disadvantage for riders.
However, there are reasons to doubt that the IOS vehicle will be faster than the #42 bus other than because of the infrequent stops, which the regular buses could emulate. The reasons are that, first, the #42 bus follows a more direct path along Ala Moana (and can use the IOS semi-exclusive lanes) than the IOS vehicle, which deviates onto Ilalo Street and then onto Auahi Street before returning to Ala Moana Boulevard. Second, There are no exclusive lanes along the route, only semi-exclusive ones accessible by all buses.
[xxi] “The IOS traverses a route that is similar to Route 8 Waikiki-Ala Moana Center but will provide limited stop express service. Therefore, Route 8 service will be replaced by the IOS when the IOS is implemented. Between Downtown and Ala Moana, Routes 55, 56, and 57 will overlap the IOS route. These routes currently provide service between windward Oahu and Downtown and Ala Moana Center. Turning Routes 55, 56, and 57 around in Downtown instead of at Ala Moana Center will remove this overlap.” From FEIS, IOS Chapter, IOS-19.
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