Thursday, January 29, 2009

Honolulu Rail Transit ‘Airport Route’ Will Serve Thousands Who Work at Airport, Pearl Harbor

The newly designated “airport route” for
Honolulu’s future rail system is in blue. 
The impact of yesterday’s City Council vote to redirect the rail system’s route probably hasn’t sunk in yet for the thousands of employees at Honolulu International Airport, U.S. Naval Shipyard and Hickam Air Force Base. But give them some time and it surely will.

The newly designated “airport route” segment will include stations at Aloha Stadium (intersection of Kamehameha Highway and Ford Island Boulevard), the Naval Base (near Makalapa Gate), the airport and Lagoon Drive.

More than 7,000 people work at or near the airport, and nearly 5,000 more are employed by the shipyard. TheBus makes about 2,500 trips to and from the airport each day, and we have to believe most of those passengers are employed at those facilities.

The rail option will be a much speedier commute for many of them, as well as a more relaxed, convenient and cost-effective experience.

Build this rail system and, as the Terence Mann character in “Field of Dreams” might say, “Airport and Pearl Harbor employees most definitely will ride this train.”

• Draft Environmental Impact Statement -- The comment period is open through February 6th.  Base newspaper "Hickam Kikuni" carried a story last week highlighting the opportunity for military personnel to have their say on the proposed transit system.  Our December 4th post has links to the Statement's contents and details on how to comment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

City Council Shifts Rail Transit Route to Airport Citing Productivity, Efficiency, Common Sense

The City Council voted as expected today to select the “airport route” for Honolulu’s fixed guideway project, reversing a 2007 decision favoring an alignment along Salt Lake Boulevard.  (Links to Star-Bulletin and Advertiser stories are below this post.)

Council Member Romy Cachola, who represents Salt Lake, was joined only by returning Member Duke Bainum in voting against the airport designation. Bainum has been off the Council for the past four years since losing a 2004 mayoral race to Mufi Hannemann. Member Barbara Marshall was excused.

Saying he’ll sit on the sidelines from now on re the rail project, Cachola “credited” Member Charles Dijou for opening the door to select a new route following the voters support of a ballot measure in November that endorsed construction of a rail system. Cachola as much as predicted the anti-rail faction will try for another bite of the apple at the next general election and said Salt Lake residents who supported rail in November likely will switch sides if the issue ever makes it to a vote again.

The Intuitive Public

Bainum explained his vote against the route by saying he's not against the project but thinks the less-expensive Salt Lake alignment is preferable.

Member Gary Okino said the airport route makes sense because it will have a greater effect on reducing congestion than the Salt Lake route and because the airport has so much more potential for future development. “I think the public intuitively sees this as the correct route,” he said. “We’re being criticized (by the public) for not going to the airport.” (Okino’s polling of the public agrees with our own unscientific sampling.)

In an earlier dialogue with Cachola, Acting Director of Transportation Services Wayne Yoshioka said running the elevated guideway past Honolulu International Airport will create a strong business link between the airport gateway and downtown. A strong business-airport connection is an added argument for a business to relocate to Honolulu, he said.

The Right Way

Dijou, a former rail opponent who switched sentiments following the November vote, said connecting the airport, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base is the right way to route the guideway.

Long-time rail supporter Member Rod Tam said the airport route is superior for its contributions to productivity and efficiency, adding that he believes the City can afford the additional $200 million it will cost compared to the Salt Lake route.

The Council earlier rejected a Bainum proposal that would have given the Council 30 days to comment on intended requests for proposals or invitations for bids from vendors on the project. DTS’s Yoshioka said any delay in the proposal and bidding process will push back the start of construction and creation of needed jobs.  Groundbreaking is still intended for December 2009.

Links to newspaper stories: Honolulu Star-Bulletin  •  Honolulu Advertiser

Council To Vote on Airport Transit Route Today

Public opinion polling organizations try to make their surveys “scientific” and reliable, with a sampling margin of error of only 4 or 5 percentage points when applied to the entire population. But unscientific polls are everywhere – daily on CNN and other news channels, at online newspaper sites and elsewhere.

Anybody can be an unscientific pollster; you just ask your question and draw conclusions. Their results can’t reliably predict an entire population’s attitudes, but unscientific polls can be revealing in their own right and sometimes reflect a community’s beliefs.

Take the routing of the Honolulu rail transit project and whether it should go along Salt Lake Boulevard or parallel Nimitz Highway past Honolulu International Airport between Aloha Stadium and Dillingham Boulevard. That issue is expected to be resolved today when the City Council takes up a resolution to change the route from the current on-paper Salt Lake alignment and switch it to the airport.

Be a pollster yourself and ask friends and acquaintances this question:

“Should the Honolulu rail transit line run past the airport?”

Our own unscientific polling on that question over the past several months has found overwhelming support for running the line past Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base and the airport instead of along Salt Lake Boulevard.

The people we talk to nearly always say local residents and tourists alike could use the train to go to and from the airport. The airport route would be convenient for Pearl Harbor, Hickam and airport employees, and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the project predicts higher ridership than the Salt Lake alignment.

The airport route would be more expensive, but many respondents think the federal government eventually will kick in the additional $200 million it would cost, perhaps as part of a federal stimulus package. Links to all the DEIS chapters can be found at our December 4th post, which also has instructions on how to submit comments on the document.

If the Council does vote one way or the other today, a major hurdle will have been cleared in moving this project forward. Most observers predict a pro-airport vote. What does your poll say?

Monday, January 26, 2009

State of State Address Mentions ‘Transit’ but Only in ‘Transition;’ Nothing Said about Tax

• Time is short to comment on rail Draft EIS; this post tells how.
Governor Linda Lingle’s State of the State Address today said nothing about holding onto the GET surcharge on Oahu – the transit tax – that’s going into the local funding vault for the Honolulu rail system.

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa last week floated the idea of using one or two years of the tax to help balance the State budget, a suggestion that both Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the Honolulu Advertiser denounced.

We know the physical layout of the Capitol building, but we don’t know our way around enough to understand what the non-mention of the tax or the rail project itself means – if anything.

Let’s just say it wasn’t in the speech and leave it there. Time will tell (as it always does) what the Lingle Administration’s intentions are for the tax – if anything.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Editorial: State Attempt To ‘Short-Circuit Rail’ In Transit Tax Grab ‘Puts Jobs, Funds at Risk’

It took a few days, but Hawaii’s largest newspaper finally has weighed in with a blistering editorial that tells the Lingle Administration and state legislators to leave the transit tax alone.

Administration officials and State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa floated the idea of using the ½-percent general excise tax surcharge that’s been in effect for two years to offset the State’s budget deficit.

Here are quotes from the Advertiser’s editorial:

“Public interests must trump politics in decisions affecting one of the most important public works projects in Hawaii’s history.”

“Disrupting local transit financing risks a delay in federal approval for the project and holds up the federal share of the money – hundreds of millions of dollars desperately needed in Hawaii. The construction salaries the project generates will trickle down to benefit the rest of the economy.”

“This is the time for the Congressional delegation to speak up – loudly – against this tax diversion. The folly of the state’s proposed money grab should be apparent to everyone, but it’s plain that taxpayers need advocates from D.C. to defend their interests.”

Senator Daniel Inouye and Rep. Neal Abercrombie have been such stalwarts in their support of Honolulu rail that they surely will be chiming in any moment now.

Last week’s Hot Seat session with Hanabusa is reprinted in today’s Advertiser and is worth another look.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

‘A Harebrained Idea’ that ‘Ain’t Going Very Far’

So said Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman in Round 2 in the “transit tax diversion” fisticuffs (see Round 1). Hannemann relied on a no-nonsense jab to rack up points:

“It’s a harebrained idea, and it ain’t going to go very far,” he said, continuing:

“Is it really fair for the people of Oahu, who have been paying this tax into a special fund, now to have to balance the budget on behalf of the whole state of Hawaii?”

Neither daily newspaper has commented editorially on what some are calling a “tax grab” proposed by Senate President Hanabusa that might jeopardize federal funding by upsetting the local funding mechanism for the Honolulu rail project.

That editorial silence is likely to end with the Sunday editions, especially since the Advertiser presumably will print excerpts of Thursday’s Hot Seat session featuring the senator.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Senate President Hanabusa’s ‘Tax Grab’ Sparks Swift Reaction for Potential to Endanger Funds

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa was on the Honolulu Advertiser’s Hot Seat yesterday, and the Honolulu rail system attracted more attention than any other issue. Most readers who wrote on that topic seemed critical of the Senator’s comments at the opening of the State Legislature suggesting that some of the so-called transit tax (the .005% increase in the general excise tax that went into effect two years ago) might be used to offset the State’s anticipated budget shortfall.

What individual voters think won’t matter as much as how federal transit officials may react to yet another potential impediment to Honolulu’s elevated guideway plans. U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye and Rep. Neil Abercrombie must be wondering how many times they’ll have to beat back initiatives, well-intended or otherwise, that may impede the rail system.

Grabbing for Taxes?

The concern about what some are calling a “grab” for the transit tax is that it may convince federal officials Honolulu will never get its act together on fixed guideway transit. City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell provided a swift rebuke to Hanabusa’s suggestion, calling it a “terrible” and “ill-conceived, ill-timed” idea. City Council Vice Chair Nestor Garcia said, “I think it would send the wrong message to the federal government and, given our history, could cause the (Federal Transit Administration) to doubt our commitment to the project.”

Members of the Legislature who represent residents plagued by the twice-a-day H-1 gridlock also had a dim view of the proposal. Said Sen. Will Espero, who represents Ewa, Honouliuli and Ewa Beach:

“We're looking at projects that can benefit from the federal economic stimulus project. This is one that has the potential of bringing in $1 billion. Why would we want to delay that process that would have enormous economic benefit to the state?"

The View from Washington

Senator Inouye reaffirmed his support for Honolulu rail in November just before Oahu voters voted in favor of rail transit, and he warned against any further delay in moving the project forward:

“In 1992, when the Congress authorized $618 million for a Honolulu transit project, the total cost was $1.7 billion. Back then, we would have paid 33 percent of the total, but it was rejected. Just think, how far this transit system would have been today, had we simply stayed the course. Your Delegation is prepared to once again deliver the federal dollars required. Of course, there is risk, but there is much greater potential for loss should we fail to act once again. Let us be hopeful and positive about our future.”

Congressman Abercrombie gave a characteristically energetic self-described “sermon” months ago on the importance the rail system. The video of his speech is still worth a look, especially if you haven’t had your daily allotment of caffeine. Here’s just a snippet of his speech about the importance of capturing up to a billion dollars in federal support for the project:

“Rail transit (funding) is something that other people are looking for all across the country, and they’re gonna get it. We’re in line at the top right now. We fall off this line, let me tell you, we’re finished! I’m done. I tell you that right now. I don’t lack for things to do. I am not gonna go chase that will-o-the-wisp a third time…. But this is it. We lose this one, we’re finished. We’re done for."

It’s only been two days since Hanabusa and others floated their ideas about the transit tax, and the daily newspapers have yet to weigh in on the issue. Here’s betting we won't have to wait long for their negative response.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Military Personnel: Check Out Your Service’s Newspaper Friday for Rail DEIS Information

Military service newspapers on Oahu will carry information this week on how military personnel can comment on the Honolulu rail project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force papers are published on Fridays here, and all will have advertisements advising members they have until February 6 to comment on the document. Most of the service papers also will carry articles about the project.

Our post last week was the first to specifically invite military personnel to comment on the DEIS, which evaluates the various alternatives for the fixed guideway transit project now under consideration. That post discusses where, how and when to comment on the document.

A point of clarification that service personnel – especially those in the Navy – may appreciate relates to station locations vis-à-vis Pearl Harbor Naval Station under the three “build” alternatives.

Under the “Salt Lake Alternative,” the station adjacent to Aloha Stadium would be the closest one to Pearl Harbor. The “Airport Alternative” would place stations on the mauka side of Kamehameha Highway near its intersections with Ford Island Boulevard and Radford Drive near Makalapa Gate.

If the “Airport & Salt Lake Alternative” were built, the three stations closest to Pearl Harbor would include the one at Aloha Stadium and two others along Kamehameha Highway – one near the entrance to the Arizona Memorial and another near Makalapa Gate.

The Draft EIS, complete with detailed maps of all Build Alternatives, can be downloaded at the project’s website. The website also has a video guide to the Draft EIS with key facts, computer-animated fly-throughs of the Salt Lake and Airport alternatives and concept renderings of the proposed rail stations.

Look to your weekly service newspaper on Friday for additional details.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Military Community Invited To Comment on Honolulu Rail Transit Project’s Draft EIS

Map illustrates the "Salt Lake" and "Airport" alternatives.
Oahu’s large military community is being invited to submit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) for the proposed Honolulu rail transit system. The comment period extends through the end of the business day on February 6.

The Draft EIS evaluates three Build Alternatives for an elevated rail transit system from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center and a No Build Alternative. The Build Alternatives follow identical routes, except by Aloha Stadium, where the:
• Salt Lake alternative continues along Salt Lake Boulevard to Kamehameha Highway; and the:
• Airport alternative travels along Kamehameha Highway with a rail station in front of Pearl Harbor Naval Base, onto Nimitz Highway, past Honolulu International Airport and onward to Kamehameha Highway.

A third Build Alternative includes both the Salt Lake and Airport routes. The alternatives that pass Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Force Base are likely to elicit the most interest from military personnel.

The Draft EIS, complete with detailed maps of all Build Alternatives, can be downloaded at the project’s website ( The website also has a video guide to the Draft EIS with key facts, computer-animated fly-throughs of the Salt Lake and Airport alternatives and concept renderings of the proposed rail stations, including the rail station in front of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base.

The public can comment in writing to the Department of Transportation Services, 650 south King Street, 3rd Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813, or online.

In addition to the project’s website, copies of the Draft EIS are available for review at State libraries, the City library, the Department of Transportation Services (DTS) office (650 South King Street – 3rd Floor), and the DTS – Rapid Transit Division office (1099 Alakea Street – Suite 1700).

The public comment period is mandated by federal and state laws. All comments received will be considered as the Final EIS is prepared by the Federal Transit Administration and the City. All relevant comments will be responded to in writing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Impeach Mufi Campaign Is Full of………..Holes; Radio Spot ‘Evidence’ Nothing More than Spin

Wondering about the big piece of evidence offered by the Impeach Mufi crowd? Here’s a radio spot the City aired during the election campaign last fall. The copy in red is what the self-appointed impeachers have highlighted on their website (no, we’re not going to link it):

“What causes traffic congestion and how do we reduce it? Simply put, congestion occurs when too many vehicles try to pass through too small an area. They have to slow down and wait their turn. During rush hour, congestion builds quickly at major roadway merges and from the downtown area outward. So we need to reduce the number of vehicles at those critical pinch points. That’s what’s so important about rail transit. Rail transit is the only large scale solution that helps reduce the number of vehicles on the road, especially in the downtown and Ala Moana areas and corridors from West Oahu. So even if rail transit doesn’t directly serve your neighborhood, it will still help overall; whether you’re commuting from the Windward side, East Honolulu or the North Shore, a growing population will mean more commuters and likely more traffic. But building rail transit now is one of the most cost-effective ways we can avoid more congestion in the future. To learn more, visit Paid for by city taxpayers.”

Each of the highlighted words and phrases refers to the City’s assertion that vehicle congestion will be reduced if rail is built. The anti-railers would have you believe these words and phrases were lies, but guess what: Congestion will be reduced if rail is built compared to what congestion would be like if rail weren't built! Spend some time with the DEIS and that much is clear.

“But, but, but….” sputter the malcontents. “We think the spot was misleading because it said congestion will be reduced from what it is now!”

Sorry, presumed impeachers. That’s not what the spot said. You can allege lies and greed and ripoff, but Honolulu citizens are too akamai to let you put this one over on them. Stop the spin.

Draft EIS Video on YouTube

Our December 4th Yes2Rail post has links to chapters in the rail project's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, but if you like your information in video form, check out the YouTube version in three parts.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rail Will Reduce Number of Traffic Delay Hours

What is so hard to understand about that statement? With rail, the number of hours drivers are delayed in traffic 10 or 20 years from now will be lower than if rail weren’t built. With rail, there will be fewer cars on the road than if rail weren’t built. With rail, driving from one end of town to the other will require less time than if rail weren’t built.

A presumably tiny but oh-so outraged segment of the community would have you believe the City was pulling a fast one in its pro-rail arguments last year. They want you to believe the City was suggesting traffic congestion would be less after the rail line is completed than it is today!

Excuse me? Does anyone believe that could possibly be true – or that the City would claim it to be true?

Oahu’s population in 2030 is forecast to be 200,000 higher than it was in 2005. That's been the City's forecast all along. With population growth comes increased traffic congestion – that’s a given – and the way to reduce congestion from what it would logically grow to be is to expand the City’s transportation network to take some of those future drivers off the road, i.e., build the rail system!

That’s what the City has said in its information campaign about rail – NOT that congestion would be less than it is today. Anyone suggesting otherwise has motives that deserve full and complete examination by the media and public – such as being anti-rail in the first place and incapable of accepting the November election’s pro-rail results.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Headed to Washington for Obama’s Big Day? City’s Metro System Is Ideal for Moving Around

"You can't get there from here" -- not something you'll hear in Washington, D.C.
Dulles and Reagan Airports, the Pentagon, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, White House, Capitol Hill and THE INAUGURATION! The excitement is approaching fever pitch as hundreds (thousands?) of island residents get ready to do D.C.

And not only will this be a first-time experience for many of you, so will the opportunity to use a modern rail transit system. The Washington Metro is more than 30 years old, and like the human condition, has grown around the edges over the years.

The Metro system’s lines run to all points of the compass from the heart of the District. Metro is the way to get around Washington and the suburbs. One line runs all the way from Dulles International Airport to L’Enfant Plaza. Another connects near-town Reagan Airport with the heart of the city and just about everywhere else.

Traffic Avoidance

You can ride the Blue Line from Springfield, VA in the south, past Reagan Airport to the Pentagon, the office hub of Rosslyn, VA, into the District and Georgetown, the Smithsonian, beneath the grand boulevards that parallel the Mall, to Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress and on to the Maryland suburbs in the east. The Metro website has all the information you’ll need to get around, including a trip planner.

As you ride the Metro rail system, imagine that a similarly convenient system will serve Honolulu within the decade. Just like Metro's rail passengers in Washington, Honolulu riders will avoid traffic entirely – arriving on time, every time. Want to read a book or newspaper? Go right ahead. Want to doze off and catch a few winks. You can do that, too.

Modern, efficient, comfortable, cost-effective….there’s no limit to the positive descriptions of rail transit systems around the nation and world, and the same will be said of Honolulu’s rail system. Ride Washington's Metro yourself, then tell your friends here at home what it was like.

Obamathon Land

As a public service, we’re linking you to the Obamathon Man website that dispenses just about all the info visitors will need to get the most out of their Obama Inauguration trip to the nation’s capital.

Up to 4 million people are expected in town, so relax if it takes a little longer than usual to move about. Most of all, enjoy the ride!

Ops Plan Includes Response to Power Outages

Power outages. We seem to have more than our share, and when they affect the entire island, questions are asked – including some about how the Honolulu rail system will be affected by a future major outage.

Substations to service the system will be located along the length of the train’s route, and each substation will be fed by redundant circuits. A localized outage isn't likely to interrupt service to the system.

A major outage such as the one on December 26-27 that blacks out the entire island naturally will stop the trains, but the lights on the train will remain lit thanks to emergency power supplies located at the stations that will feed electricity to the trains.

Safety First

Communications will be possible with passengers on the cars, and in a prolonged outage, passengers will be directed to evacuate and walk on the guideway’s lighted path to the nearest rail station. Since the stations will be a mile or less apart, the walk at most would be half a mile, but likely less. The emergency power supply also would electrify the stations, including elevators for passengers in wheelchairs.

The project’s engineering and design teams meet regularly with police, fire and emergency services personnel and are developing procedures to deal with power outages. Like everybody else on the island, they’re learning to plan for them.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

DEIS Discusses Protection of Valuable Lands

Critical decisions will be made in 2009 on numerous aspects of Honolulu’s rail transit project. Citizens have until February 6 to submit written comments on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). This blog has provided links to the document’s several chapters and encourages citizens to avail themselves of their opportunity to have their say.

We highlighted the Environmental Justice chapter of the DEIS last month. EJ requires that federal projects do not disproportionately impact minority and low-income populations. 

Chapter 5 of the DEIS discusses the project with respect to Section 4(f) of the U.S. Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The rail project must take into account the protection of public parklands and recreational lands, wildlife refuges and historic sites of National, State or Local significance.

Written comments may be sent to the Department of Transportation Services, 650 South King Street, 3rd Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813. Comments must be received or postmarked by 4:30 p.m. on February 6.

The entire DEIS is viewable online.  Copies also can be reviewed at State libraries, the City library, the Department of Transportation Services (at the above address) and at the Rapid Transit Division office, 1099 Alakea Street, Suite 1700.