Friday, February 19, 2010

TV Show Highlights EIS Process to Approve Rail; Panel Disputes AIA Claim Change Would be Minor

******************************************************** 7:30 pm Update: One hundred years ago today Los Angeles citizens were concerned about train safety, urged "Subway or Elevated Solution for Railroads"
Local public television’s one-hour public affairs show “Insights on PBS Hawaii” aired last night and was devoted to the Honolulu rail project. Host and moderator Dan Boylan’s guest panelists were Gary Okino, City Councilman and Transportation Committee chair; Gary Gill, former director of the State Office of Environmental Quality Control and former City Council member; Peter Vincent, American Institute of Architects’ Transit Task Force; Kiersten Faulkner, History Hawaii Foundation, and Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Managing Director.

We’ll focus on the numerous issues discussed – including at-grade vs elevated safety – over the next few days and start with an exchange on process and whether the AIA’s assertion that a change of technology from “heavy” to “light rail” could be accomplished with minimum delay. We’ve transcribed the telecast and have attempted to quote everyone accurately, while taking some liberties to paraphrase when possible without disturbing the conversation’s thrust.

Gill: “Car-based transportation on a small island is just not where we need to be in the future. It spreads out the city way too far. It takes way more land than it should. For those who are concerned about how a rail or elevated system might look, I’d just ask him, ‘Can you look at the Halawa interchange?’ Here’s hundreds of acres with nothing but a spiral of concrete going around, and that’s what a car-based transportation system looks like.”

Vincent: “AIA Honolulu is absolutely and unequivocally pro-rail, and some people have felt that we’re trying to get it stopped… we are for the system... rail is appropriate for the (entire) country and specifically for Honolulu due to its narrow corridor between the mountains and the ocean. We don’t want to see it stopped. …We have major reservations about the heavy rail system, which is inflexible and does not lend itself well to expansion…. It should be changed to a light rail system, as has been done in some 34 other U.S. cities since 1985. We’re proposing a light rail system that is far more expandable, can run elevated. It could be the entire elevated segment as proposed by the City, in fact, but light rail has not had its day in court….”

Caldwell: “We’re ‘this close’ to finalizing our final FEIS, and now a group of architects is saying let’s come back and review the entire system, let’s do it differently. That means we’re not proceeding. That means you go back and start all over again…. That means four years probably in terms of delay. That means the legislation, which is looking at almost a half billion dollars we’ve collected in the excise tax surcharge, maybe being borrowed or actually taken away, in which case the federal government says we will not commit the one point five five billion that the Obama administration just said they will be committing to us in 2011, and the federal money may go away. That means we’re back to status quo. We have more roads, more highways, more pollution, more heating…. This discussion was had, and this man right here (Council member Okino) heard the discussion, he was part of the vote on what type of system to do, and that took place in 2006. It’s too late to have that debate now.”

Boylan: (turning to former OEQC director Gill). “As a man who knows the EIS function, is it too late? Would it be four more years if we went back….?”

Gill: “Well, through the EIS process you would probably have to submit an entirely new document. It certainly could take years, but the document itself is just one thing. The laws leading up to a funding mechanism, the decisions that would have to be taken on the City Council, it would take years.”

Vincent: “No, I disagree with that. It depends on what the change is. If there’s an alignment change, it does require a supplemental EIS, and that could take 6 months or a year. There are systems we’ve researched that have gone through major changes in their DEIS process, have taken approximately a year and are now in construction…. What we’re proposing actually is just a change to light rail, which is not even really discussed in the DEIS, that specific technology. So that technology change could happen without any revision, and the project could start as planned.

Gill: “I’m sorry, Peter, I don’t think so. It’s not discussed in that document. You can’t just slip it in between the draft and the final. I’m sorry, that would not be allowed. The federal government would not allow it. The state would not allow it.”

Caldwell: “At the forum that was hosted by the Governor in which Mr. Vincent was on the panel, they talked about putting half the system at-grade. The impacts are dramatically different at-grade than with an elevated system, and that’s where they said it would only take 6 months. We went back to the FTA and asked them if that was true. They said what former Council member Gary Gill said. It would take two years at a minimum, and they said we would not recommend doing a supplemental EIS but a full-blown EIS because the impacts are so dramatically different.”

Vincent: “But we’re not talking about the change to going at-grade. What we’re talking about is going from a heavy rail system to light rail, and that technology change is very minor and does not require revisions to the EIS. Therefore, that change could be made, and then, if portions were to go at-grade, there would be ample time to study those and amend the EIS.”

Caldwell: “So are you no longer supporting an at-grade system? I just want to get that clear. You were at one point.”

Vincent: “Portions of it, but we think it could start elevated with the change to light rail, which would allow more flexibility with no delay. Jobs could start now. There’d be more local jobs.”

Caldwell: “There would be delay, Peter. You admit it yourself.”

Okino: “…through the federal process, this is not a good thing to do. The federal process is very vigorous, and it approves a project to go ahead. It’s based on…cost-benefit analysis. If you put a system on the ground, you dramatically change the benefits of a system. You put a train on the ground, you change the speed of the thing. You can’t put a train on the ground and go 60 miles an hour (as if it were) elevated. So it changes the capacity. The cost. They downplay the cost of putting something on the ground as being cheaper. That has to go through a total analysis. I disagree that it’s gonna be cheaper, not in Honolulu. It’s gonna change all of the factors. It’s gonna change operating costs of this thing, because now you gotta put drivers on the train. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of things. It’s practically a new project once you make it touch the ground.”

Caldwell: “(An at-grade train) can go no faster than the fastest car, and during rush hour, a car goes 14 miles an hour and a bus 7, and you can’t have (a train) going faster unless it’s grade-separated.”

Vincent: (Holds up a photo of open land on the ewa plain) “If you’re on grade here, where the project is proposed to start, how fast can you go? And a light rail train can travel at the same speed as a heavy rail vehicle in this condition, and there’s three miles of this going from the ag lands in East Kapolei to…..”

Caldwell: “It looks like it’s crossing a road, so I assume it’s going to stop at some point.”

Okino: “The train travels at three-minute headways (separation) and it has to pass through the middle of downtown Honolulu, and I don’t care how clear it is out (on the ewa plain), that section in downtown Honolulu will dictate how the whole system operates.”

Summarizing: Gill, Okino and Caldwell effectively refuted Vincent’s attempts to minimize the delay of switching to a different technology, and we’re likely to see more views to contradict the AIA when the City Council delegation travels to Washington to meet with federal officials.

Vincent’s display of the photograph showing a portion of agriculture land on the ewa plain was confusing. If that’s where the AIA believes the system could be elevated (with the in-town section at-grade), why would he show the photo and imply light rail (code words for at-grade rail) could travel through this area as quickly as elevated rail?

Historic Hawaii Foundation’s Faulkner was not engaged in this portion of the debate, and we’ll report her comments later.

1 comment:

Monika said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.