SECOND OPINION by Cliff Slater
May 4, 2004
We will now support putting the $2.6 billion Kapolei to Iwilei rail transit project into the Environmental Impact statement (EIS) process.
The Federal Transit Administration EIS process requires that projects seeking federal funding compare alternatives based on transit riders’ time savings, increases in transit costs, and the projected increases in riders for the alternatives (see footnotes for details).
Normally the EIS compares a) the elected officials’ “vision,” b) doing nothing and, c) a “straw man” alternative whose sole purpose is to look bad in comparison to the “vision.”
In return for our support, we would like to have the EIS compare rail transit against a real alternative, such as the two-lane reversible transitway outlined in an earlier column (3/29).
Both the proposed rail transit line and the transitway would run from beyond Waikele to Iwilei. Both would be elevated on single columns for most of their lengths and be built to roughly the same dimensions. The dissimilarity is that one alternative would offer travel by buses and vanpools on the transitway and the other trains on the rail line.
The transitway offers the possibility of seamless travel from home to work for those using buses and vanpools because these vehicles would access the transitway from local roads and keep going non-stop at 50 mph until the exit.
Rail transit, however, will be stopping every three-quarters of a mile, and since distance between stations is the biggest constraint on speed, it means that the trains will average less than 30 mph.
In addition, because travel is seamless for buses and vanpools on the transitway, these riders will avoid the time loss of transferring from bus to train. Rail transit, on the other hand, would be a truncated spine requiring transfer from either a bus or car, or a significant walk, at one or both ends of the line.
With faster average speeds, and less time spent transferring, the transitway option will generally offer faster travel door-to-door. Since we all value our time, the much faster ride of bus on transitway will attract more riders than rail transit.
Then we come to costs: The transitway is basically a highway and is built on a simple bidding process and requires no special vehicles. Rail transit on the other hand requires rails, trains, park-and-ride lots, and escalators and elevators at most of the stations.
Allowing for inflation, the 1992 rail transit proposal projected costs of $2.5 billion for a 15.9 mile system. A transitway of the same length would cost $1.2 billion — roughly half the price. In addition, the transitway has several advantages when funding the capital costs.
First, if we fill the available space on the transitway not occupied by buses and vanpools, with cars paying an electronically-collected toll (variable by time of day) then we accomplish two things. We raise enough funds to lower local costs, and we get a large number of cars off the regular freeways. This is the HOT lanes proposal, which is currently being put to use all over the Mainland as the best way of ensuring that tollways are fully . Estimates are that we could raise $200 million selling the future income stream from these tolls.
Second, operating costs are quite low for highways. Allowing for inflation, the additional operating costs for the 1992 rail transit system over “doing nothing” would have been $57 million annually. Allowing $10 million for transitway operating costs, the remaining $47 million is an annual amount that would pay off an $850 million highway purchase over 50 years including interest.
Third, there is a limit on federal ‘New Starts’ funding for rail projects of $500 million, which means we would have to raise $2 billion locally for rail transit — plus any cost overruns. Highways, on the other hand, have much higher grant limits and are also eligible for more different types of federal funding.
So you can count on us to support rail transit as one alternative in the EIS. But remember the proviso.
Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater
New Starts criteria. June 3003. “Incremental Cost Divided by Transportation
System User Benefits”.
 "The TSM option appears "born to lose," as
most TSM options are in alternatives analyses." Comments of Dr. G. Scott
Rutherford, G. Scott Rutherford, Professor of Civil and Environmental
Engineering at the University of Washington and Director of its Transportation
Engineering Graduate Studies Program, in An Evaluation of the Honolulu Rapid
Transit Development Project's Alternative Analysis and Draft Environmental
of Urban Transportation Systems- Chapter 2. FTA library, page 1-15. See also,
Environmental Impact Statement,
 This is based on $75 million per mile. This is before cost overruns on the same basis as the rail transit cost.
options for allowing autos on the transitway are:
 FEIS, 1992.
 Using a 5 percent interest rate.
Other columns on traffic and transportation:City's BRT has degenerated into a farce. February 16, 2004.