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
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.