Monday, January 3, 2011

Rail’s Goals Remain the Same in the New Year; Congestion-Free Travel through Town Tops List

Honolulu rail is poised for major advancement early in 2011. With Governor Abercrombie’s acceptance of rail’s final environmental impact statement last month only 10 days into his new term, the project now awaits three more key steps.

The first is final signing of a “Programmatic Agreement” that stipulates how impacts are to be lessened on historic sites along the project’s 20-mile route.

Once that document is finalized among the parties, the Federal Transit Administration will be able to issue a Record of Decision on the project. The ROD will state the FTA’s determination that all environmental steps have been completed in the project planning phase. It will summarize the mitigations and identify alternatives that were considered.

The City Council already has scheduled hearings on the third step – issuance of a Special Management Area use permit. About 8 percent of the project will lie within the shoreline protection zone, thereby requiring an SMA permit. The Council’s hearings will be held Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Reviewing the Goals

Mayor Peter Carlisle anticipates breaking ground on the project sometime in the first quarter of the year, a milestone moment in the long process to build grade-separated transit in Honolulu that stretches back decades.

Rail’s opponents have vowed to continue their own decades-long effort to block rail, so it’s worth reviewing the project’s four goals as listed in Chapter One of the FEIS:

• Improve corridor mobility – Congestion has increased steadily through the decades and will continue to worsen in the decades ahead. The FEIS states: “Given current and increasing levels of congestion, an alternative method of travel is needed within the study corridor independent of current and projected highway congestion.” In other words, Honolulu rail will provide congestion-free travel through the urban corridor and thereby restore true mobility – the ability to know both your departure and arrival times for trips across town.

• Improve corridor travel reliability – Car and bus travel are susceptible to delays that can occur without warning. “This lack of predictability is inefficient and results in lost productivity or free time,” the FEIS states. “A need exists to provide more reliable transit services.” Honolulu rail will operate on a time table; train travel from one end of the line to the other will take 42 minutes day in and day out.

• Improve access to planned development to support City policy to develop a second urban center – Again from the FEIS: “Accessibility to the overall `Ewa Development Plan area is currently severely impaired by the congested roadway network, which will only get worse in the future.” Without improved accessibility to support Ewa’s growth, the area is less likely to develop as outlined in the City’s General Plan for decades.

• Improve transportation equity – Proponents of elevated highways make no allowance for this goal in their schemes to build high-occupancy toll (HOT) roads as an option to rail. They ignore transportation equity, which the FEIS defines as “the fair distribution of resources so that no group carries an unfair burden of the negative environmental, social, or economic impacts or receives an unfair share of benefits.” HOT lanes would serve only those who can afford to pay the toll, an option that obviously ignores the equity issue. Honolulu rail will provide fast, frequent, reliable and safe travel to all groups of citizens, regardless of their income and age.

Anti-railers surely will raise objections to Honolulu rail even at this late date – as if the project can be reset and begin anew. There’s absolutely no reason to do that, since each and every objection they raise already has been thoroughly addressed. You can look it up, and a good place to start is the FEIS.

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