Thursday, February 4, 2010

Editorial Lauds FTA’s Support for Honolulu Rail; Former Mayor Fasi, Long-Time Advocate, Dies

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin continues its string of pro-rail project editorials today with “Feds’ rail boost reassuring” offering. The editorial focuses attention on the one issue that is growing larger each day because of its potential to actually kill the project – Governor Lingle’s skepticism. If she does not formally accept the Final Environmental Impact Statement, that’s what will happen.

The Governor was on her favorite conservative local talk show yesterday morning and did not waver in her skepticism even after federal officials essentially endorsed Honolulu rail by including $55 million in the Department of Transportation’s 2011 budget and signaling a full funding agreement that would bring in an additional $1.5 billion in federal support.

Federal Transit Administration leader Peter Rogoff noted the involvement of 13 state agencies that have been closely involved in the project’s environmental review process without sending up alarms. “I have to be honest,” he said. “We’re finding the process of involving the governor to be somewhat perplexing.” (That approximates the reaction of federal Department of Education officials to Hawaii’s ongoing Furlough Friday mess that has reduced public school days here to the lowest number in the country.)

Doing the Job Right

Presuming the Governor’s concerns about the project’s financial plan can be overcome by ongoing positive developments, a bigger obstacle could be what she feels inside – her emotional reaction to the proposed elevated rail line.

Will the guideway impact sight lines? Of course, especially up close, and the EIS acknowledges that. But the document also notes that the impact lessens with distance, and once that distance is at least a block or two, the guideway can’t even be seen in most instances because it will be hidden behind existing buildings and structures. The same can’t be said about high-rise towers that have walled off the ocean from many locations in Honolulu.

The essential point for the Governor and her advisors to appreciate is this: Only grade-separated transit completely avoids traffic congestion. Only this mode of transit gives users a predicted time of arrival at their destinations that is virtually guaranteed. That’s why grade-separated transit systems issue timetables; their station arrival and departure times are established and maintained, in Honolulu’s case, by computer control.

At-grade transit would not be as fast as elevated rail, wouldn’t be as frequent (due to greater time intervals between trains imposed by human drivers), wouldn’t be as reliable because of inevitable interference by other surface traffic and wouldn’t be as safe due to the inevitability of accidents. Phoenix’s new system averaged a crash a week in its first year of operation.

Both the Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser have spent decades following and studying this city’s various rail projects and have consistently endorsed their elevated alignment. The sooner the Governor reaches the same conclusions, the sooner construction can begin, people can be put to work and commuters will have an alternative to wasting hours each day sitting in traffic.

Frank F. Fasi

Frank Fasi, the long-time colorful mayor of Honolulu who repeatedly attempted to have high-speed grade-separated rail transit built here, died last night at his Makiki home, according to this on-line report at the Advertiser’s website. He was 89.

Fasi was mayor for all but four years between 1968 and 1994, when he resigned from office to run for governor, one of his four unsuccessful tries for that office (that ultimately resulted in the "Fasi resign-to-run law").

His attempt to build the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit project was derailed by his 1980 defeat for reelection by Eileen Anderson, who promptly scrapped the project. Back in office after Anderson’s single term, Fasi resurrected his transit planning and solicited bids in the late 1980s to build an elevated line from Leeward Community College to the University of Hawaii campus in Manoa and also above Kuhio Avenue all the way to Honolulu Zoo in Waikiki.

One year after a consortium of train manufacturers, construction companies and others was selected, the project died on a 4-5 City Council vote in 1992 to increase the general excise tax to provide the local share of the project’s $1.3 billion cost – 70 percent of which would have been paid by the federal government.

Had the vote gone the other way, the project was scheduled to have been completed by 2003 and would have been one of Frank Fasi’s numerous lasting legacies.


Anonymous said...

RIP, Mayor Fasi. Your hard work made Hawaii a better place and has helped generations of families. Condolences to your ohana.

I hope we have the wisdom and courage to follow through on your dream for a rail line for Oahu.

Anonymous said...

Bummer about that Moody's bond downgrade. Who needs a train to alleviate traffic congestion when no one will be driving anymore?

Doug Carlson said...

Here's the news item alluded to by one of the anonymous posters:
"Hawaii, the third-most indebted U.S. state, had the outlook on $4.7 billion of general-obligation bonds lowered by Moody’s Investors Service because it’s depleting budget reserves as declining tourism reduces revenue."

Yeah, bummer...but as the story goes on to say, recovery is on the way. There's no reason for a doom-and-gloom outlook to last forever; unfortunately, so many anti-railers express the view things are always going to be "down" that it becomes a cliche. This, too, shall pass. Besides, the rail project requires a decades-long view.

Anonymous said...

Moody did not downgrade the rating, it downgraded its outlook. Subtle but very different. In addition, it discusses about the state, not the city. The anti-rail camp is getting very desperate.