2017 Honolulu Rail: Advice to the Legislature
by Dr Panos Prevedouros, PhD, Fix Oahu!, February 8, 2017
As the Hawaii Legislature is debating yet another round of requests by the "on time and on budget but no accountability in sight" mayor of Honolulu to extend the General Excise Tax Surcharge for rail, I offer these comments:
- The best option since the expected costs for rail's construction surpassed $7 billion was to stop and demolish it. But that's a political non starter for the current regime.
- The second best option to avoid a $10+ billion dollar hole is to stop the rail at Middle Street. This should be doable at a cost of about $8 billion. The Middle St. station is at the intermodal center of Honolulu, thus rail can seamlessly connect to a BRT circulator (Kalihi, Chinatown, downtown), and express buses to UH and Waikiki.
- The recently floated Middle Street to UH on-street light rail option will get us past a $15 billion cost and will result in heavy in-town congestion and many accidents. In some places, the lane loss will be severe because of the need for space for stations. Honolulu is the most lane deficient city over one million population in the U.S. (e.g., lane miles per capita).
- A rail system cannot operate without a rail yard. Mayor Mufi Hannemann started the rail out west because he could not find space for an in-town rail yard. Where's the space for a light rail yard anywhere between Middle St. and UH? We can't put it at Middle Street because the revised sea level rise and tsunami exposure maps have placed it inside an inundation zone.
- Very few commuters will choose the proposed on-street light rail in town because car, taxi and Uber is door to door service and over twice as fast. Note that the rail EIS clearly states that in year 2030 with rail, all trips between Aiea and Ala Moana will be faster by car than by rail. I should add that there is nothing that light rail will do in town that BRT would not do better with more flexibility, and cheaper.
The Legislature should not approve any extensions of the GET and it should pass a bill directing the city to handle current and future deficits with its own resources. This offers hope for some accountability and cost containment. The Legislature should also reduce the state share of the GET from 10% to 2%. These are the only reasonable actions by politicians who claim that care for the people.