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Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Did HART Secretly Pay Off Advertiser Editor?
By Honolulu Traffic @ 4:30 PM :: 8907 Views :: Ethics, Rail

Rail outreach turning into outrage as it approaches $20 million:

From Honolulu Traffic

Honolulu Weekly has a new listing of PR expenditures promoting rail transit obtained from undercover city sources (“Deep Throat”). The list amounts to $11.7 million spent from 2008 through today. However, we must allow for three more items if we are to get a real handle on what is being spent.

First, five accounts in the listing are shown as, “Not reported.” Jeanne Mariani-Belding, former editorial page editor of the Advertiser is one. PB Americas is charging HART $175,000 annually for Doug Carlson’s blog, and $215,000 annually for Pat Lee to attend Neighborhood Board meetings (see entire listing of HART people), so one would think that PB must charge Jeanne out for at least $250,000 annually, and she is just one of five on the “Not reported” list.

Second, there are no charges shown for the period 2005 to 2008. However, we do know that the City issued $3.3 million in public relations/outreach contracts during this time.

Third, we do not know HART’s projections for the next few years but, at the current level of $2 million plus annually, it would not be unreasonable to consider that future charges will be at least another $1.5 million annually until 2020, should the rail line get built. That would be another $12 million.

The recipients of all this "outreach" may start to wonder how HART could have spent around $15 million on "outreach" and yet somehow forget to tell the voters that traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today. How silly of them.

Let’s consider how we are managing the rail project:

First, we hired Parsons Brinckerhoff executive Wayne Yoshioka to be the City Transportation Director. Then we contracted with Parsons Brinckerhoff to plan the rail line. We then contracted with InfraConsult LLC to watch over PB. (Three senior PB officials had formed InfraConsult prior to its contract with the City).

To run HART, the semi-autonomous transit authority, our politicians appointed nine directors, not one of whom had any familiarity with transit whatsoever. Lack of it seemed to be a requirement for appointment.

Some months ago HART awarded Ansaldo STS/Breda a core systems contract which includes the design, construction and delivery of the train vehicles, the train control systems and the operation and maintenance of the rail system after installation. HART chose Ansaldo despite their not being the low bidder.

Note that until a couple of months ago we had no employee or appointee in HART/City who had any experience in running a rail transit line. Yet we awarded contracts for billions of dollars to build of one of the most expensive heavy rail lines ever built in the U.S. We will ignore for the moment that HART did this with no commitment for federal funding.

Having now awarded a majority of the contracts to build rail we finally hire someone, HART CEO Dan Grabauskas, who had actually run a rail transit line. While running Boston’s MBTA he had installed a new train control system on the Red Line that permitted more frequent service and he had also had installed an electronic fare system. He is also by reputation an excellent administrator. However, running a rail line and building one are two very different matters.

In the meantime, PB was sold to British construction company Balfour Beatty PLC. Infraconsult has been sold to Omaha, Nebraska-based HDR Engineering, Inc. As we mentioned the other day, China South Locomotive, majority-owned by the Chinese government, is considering making a bid for Italian train maker Ansaldo STS, according to last Sunday’s London Sunday Times.

Isn’t anyone else nervous?

There has only been one U.S. elevated heavy rail line built since 1984 and that was the Tren Urbano in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its cost overrun was 74 percent higher than the amount settled at the time of the Full Funding Grant Agreement. Its ridership was just as bad, it achieved only 23 percent of what it had projected.

Even worse is its subsequent performance: In 2003, the last full year before rail, San Juan had bus ridership of 32.0 million. In 2010 the combined ridership of its buses and its multi-billion dollar rail line was 21.8 million, a 32 percent decline from 2003 from its bus ridership alone.

Given these facts, you should now ask which, if any, of our elected decision makers have been to San Juan to see what they could learn about it to prevent a similar disaster happening here. Don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer to that one.


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