Honolulu Advertiser

SECOND OPINION  by Cliff Slater

August 8, 2005

You aren’t getting truth about city’s mass-transit plans

Two years ago, this column (“BRT: A pattern of deception,” 9/22/03)[1] detailed the deceptive practices of the then City administration concerning the In-town Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) project.

A year ago, as the BRT program was closing down, this column warned (“How to end the spin on O’ahu rail transit,” 11/1/04)[2] that more deception would be forthcoming as the City considered a rail line — no matter who was elected.

However strong that warning was, it was insufficient considering the full onslaught of spin, deception and obfuscation that has subsequently issued forth this year from Hawaii’s elected officials.

The first was the selling of the project as “light” rail[3] and as updating the failed 1992 plans.[4] However, the 1992 plans called for “heavy” rail, which uses steel wheels on steel rails, is noisy, and takes its electricity from the proverbial third rail. This is why heavy rail, still at an average of only 22.5 mph because of stops, is not as slow as real “light” rail at 18.5 mph.[5]

Our politicians have been telling us that a tax must be in place and levied before federal officials would consider dealing with Hawaii. This is not true. Federal officials want to see a tax authorized after we select the “Locally Preferred Alternative” sometime in 2007 if the City picks rail. They do not require that the City actually impose the tax until they receive the federal funds commitment, which is years away.[6]

Our new Mayor is promising that rail is what is needed to reduce traffic congestion.[7] However, he knows that rail transit will do little or nothing about traffic congestion.[8] Even Council members Garcia and Okino have admitted, reluctantly, in small group meetings, that rail will do nothing for traffic congestion.[9]

Concerning the effects of the tax, the Mayor quotes the House Finance Committee’s quote of $245 per family of four annually, rather than the Tax Foundation’s $450, as the impact of the ½ percent tax hike. However, do the math, it does not even cover the projected annual operating losses, let alone raise enough money to build the rail line. Even the $450 per family does not come close. Our projections show that the City will have to increase the GE Tax to at least 5.25 percent to do the job.[10]

Even the use of the GE tax is dishonest. The only reason to use the GE tax rather than the gasoline tax, or the property tax, is that voters would be quickly aware of how much it would cost them. A Council presentation showed that they would have to raise property taxes by 46 percent or gas taxes by 56¢ a gallon, to raise the same revenues as the ½ percent GE tax hike. Of course, voters would not stand still for an obvious tax hike.

The Mayor now uses a handout, “Top 12 reasons for rail transit.” When he first issued it a couple of months ago, we had to write a four-page critique just to cover the more important, shall we say, misstatements.[11]

For example, saying that we had 36 percent more vehicles on the road since 1992 when the actual number is 12.5 percent. Saying that a “rail system carrying 10,000 an hour equals the carrying capacity of a six or eight lane highway.” The truth is that one single HOV lane in New Jersey carries more passengers per hour than every rail line in the U.S. excepting the New York’s 8th Avenue subway. Saying that, “There’s little room for roads,” when the HOT lanes proposal would take up hardly more room than the rail line.

Now the Mayor says we have understated the cost of HOT lanes and it would cost $200-$300 million a mile to construct Honolulutraffic.com’s 10-mile two-lane tax-free HOT lanes.

He would have you believe that a simple two-lane highway would cost far more than a rail line with its trains, rails, together with stations, each with their escalators, stairs, elevators, and electrical sub-stations.

The reality is that Tampa, Florida, will soon open a three-lane elevated HOT lane highway constructed for $46 million a mile, even after a costly design mistake, and their Expressway Authority tells us that they could replicate it for $28 million a mile

Finally, the Mayor recently slides into the absurd by writing, “Imagine an Oahu where people will live, work, shop, and play near transit stations” — “Come out from under the train, Johnny!” — and, “a rail system could even improve the city and state’s credit worthiness.” With a $3 billion bond issue?

We know that Mufi is desperately trying to beat the record of former Mayor Harris — but at spinning and obfuscating? Why not best him at telling the truth. Now, there’s an easy victory.

Cliff Slater is a regular columnist whose footnoted columns are at www.lava.net/cslater

[4]  Final Environmental Impact Statement, Honolulu Rapid Transit Program, July 1992. Available at the Municipal Library.

[6]  That it is not necessary to actually impose the tax before federal construction funds are available was confirmed by conversations with FTA officials, DOT Director Rod Haraga in a radio broadcast on Monday, August 1, 2005, and by Congressman Neil Abercrombie in testimony before the Council Joint Committee on Budget and Transportation on Tuesday, August 2, 2005.

[7] The Mayor’s July 10, 2005, Advertiser op/ed begins with, “Traffic congestion is killing our quality of life … we need to tackle the problem now … rail transit is the most promising solution.”

[8]  On June 15, 2005, we spent time presenting to the Mayor the congestion data for all metropolitan areas with rail, all of which have had increased traffic congestion. This data was all federal data together with that of the Texas Transportation Institute, whose material the city also uses in its presentations.

[9] On May 26, 2005, at a Chamber of Commerce presentation, on being questioned, Councilmember Garcia finally admitted that rail transit would no nothing for traffic congestion, “but would give people a choice.” On June 21, 2005, in a Chamber of Commerce sponsored discussion with me and Councilmember Djou and DTS Deputy Director Toru Hamayasu, Councilmember Okino also admitted that rail transit would do nothing for traffic congestion.

[10] “Mayor Mufi Hannemann acknowledged yesterday that the tax money, plus whatever Washington throws into the pot, will be enough to start a system but not enough to finish it.” Honolulu Advertiser editorial. Tuesday, July 12, 2005.  See rail funding spreadsheet.