Monday, May 17, 2010

Civil Beat: ‘Transit Plan Out of City Hands’

The new subscription online news service makes an excellent point in its lead story on transit today – and does it so succinctly that we stole its headline for our own. Editor John Temple’s Twitter posts today included a link to the story, so we feel comfortable quoting from it and linking to it here as well.

Reporter Treena Shapiro starts off by noting: “When construction begins on Honolulu’s rail line is now up to the governor and federal government.”

It’s like raising a child. You spend years preparing, planning, informing and selecting, and in the end, the City has to stand back and see what happens with this major project. Shapiro continues:

“The City this month submitted its final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed $5.3 billion rail project to the Federal Transit Administration. For construction to begin, the FTA and Gov. Linda Lingle need to sign off on the plans.”

The requirement to obtain those two final sign-offs has been known for years, so that’s not “news” news. But Shapiro’s observation serves to sharpen the focus of everyone concerned with rail. First the FTA, then the Governor must give rail a thumbs up.

FTA’s Endorsement

The former doesn’t seem in doubt. FTA officials in February gave the project a ringing endorsement and as good as pledged $1.55 billion in federal funds to Honolulu rail. So the real question is whether the Governor will formally accept the FEIS and allow rail to be built.

We’ve noted here that the Governor has shown a partiality to at-grade trains, even though at-grade transit requires more ground-level disruption and trenching, more neighborhood impacts, more incursion into existing traffic lanes, is accident-prone and therefore less reliable, is slower, can carry fewer passengers, and so on.

Shapiro’s piece is informative reading and we encourage Yes2Rail’s visitors to do so, but we’ll also add some of Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s thoughts as expressed in a February 2 press conference. He reflected on the FTA’s supportive comments and the necessity for Governor Lingle to sign off on rail for it to become a reality after all these decades of planning and anticipation. Mayor Hannemann:

“We would really hope that she would start sending some positive messages and signals,” Hannemann said. “Whatever it is that’s holding her back, cast it aside for the good of the people. This is a train that will bring economic benefits for people for years and decades and generations to come.
"I’m very pleased that Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff with Department of Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood has proclaimed this morning great confidence in Honolulu city rail transit initiative… Today’s show of financial support validates the financial analysis, the evaluations that have been put forward for many years, and certainly it could not come at a better time, especially when the chief executive of this state is expressing strong concerns and reservations about going forward.
“For the federal government to also say today that we are committing to one point five billion dollars towards that full funding agreement that we will sign by 2011 is the ultimate. It’s wonderful news. This is going to be one of the highest amounts or awards ever given to a city in America….
“The other news that I want to put out today again is that in the new criteria going forward for transportation projects under new starts funding, there’s going to be an emphasis on livable communities. There’s going to be a collaborative effort between (the Department of Housing and Urban Development) and (the Environmental Protection Administration) to identify those projects that will bring about green communities, livable communities and sustainability. And Honolulu will rank again very high, mark my words. Why? Waipahu, Pearl City, Aiea, Kalihi, Chinatown, eventually McCully, Moiliili will all be the recipients and beneficiaries of a transit-oriented development concept.
"They know this is an excellent project. If they didn’t believe that was so or if they believed that it was shaky, they would not have approved what they have approved and have announced today. So, good news for Honolulu, even better news for the state of Hawaii, because this is going to benefit all of us in the state…."
When asked how soon he would like the Governor to approve the FEIS, Hannemann answered: “It’s not on her desk yet, and we knew that, but the fact of the matter is, and Peter Rogoff reiterated it this morning, that 13 state agencies have already opined, have already given their comments and suggestions. We’re working very closely with them. We’ve been collaborating very closely with the Office of Environmental Quality Control, so the fact of the matter is there has been a lot of consultation going on. We believe it’s 99 percent done. We really would hope that she would start sending some positive messages and signals.
“You know how many states would love to hear what we heard today? This is unbelievable, that we got the good news even before the EIS was released from Washington, so that validates the fact that they know that we’re doing a good job and we brought it to this point that they’re willing to go out and say one point five billion. So I really believe the Governor, whatever it is that’s holding her back, cast it aside for the good of the people. This is not Mufi’s train. This is the train that will bring about economic benefits for the people for years and decades and generations to come….”

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