Friday, August 12, 2011

Q&A with Honolulu Transportation Chief Yoshioka On Federal Rail Funding, Bike Program, TheBus

This site relies on links to numerous online sources, and Civil Beat, the Honolulu-based subscription news service, is a frequent “contributor.” Civil Beat has lost some of its uniqueness now that many other news outlets, including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, charge for their content, but CB’s content is still exceptional, with no advertising accompanying its in-depth reporting that’s unconstrained by column length. As a subscriber since CB’s launch in April 2010, we recommend it to anyone with a strong interest in public affairs here; the current promotion has cut the subscription price in half.

Yes2Rail is read at a distance by many who aren’t likely to subscribe to Civil Beat, so we hope our long introduction will help smooth the way for our extensive quoting of today’s content at Civil Beat, recently judged by The Society of Professional Journalists Hawaii Chapter to be the “Best Overall News Site.”

Wayne Yoshioka, Honolulu’s Director of Transportation Services and ex-officio member of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, will be at Civil Beat’s offices next Tuesday for an online conversation about Honolulu’s Transportation future. These questions and answers are at CB today as a prelude to Tuesday’s session. (He's shown testifying at a City Council hearing on Honolulu rail in July 2010.)

1. Last month, control of the city's $5 billion transit system was transferred from the Carlisle administration to the semi-autonomous Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, for which you sit on the board. What will this mean for citizens as they monitor progress of the project?

Please keep in mind that I am answering the questions as the Director of the Department of Transportation Services. I do serve on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) as a voting ex-officio member, but my answers to the questions posed by Civil Beat regarding the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project (HHCTCP) only reflect my opinion and not that of the entire HART board.
The citizens of Honolulu will continue to receive the extensive level of public information that the Rapid Transit Division provided when it was part of the City and County Department of Transportation Services. The RTD and now the HART budget includes support for very significant public information efforts that include a web site, a regular program on Olelo (public TV), periodic news releases, outreach at major public events, and regular reports to neighborhood boards. HART is committed to open and transparent operations and communication of project news and decisions to the public.

2. The project is dependent on $1.5 billion in federal funds. The Federal Transit Administration has repeatedly voiced support for rail in Honolulu, but the climate in Congress is tricky right now. What makes you so confident that you'll be able to secure the federal funding?

Support for funding the Honolulu’s rail project remains strong in both at the executive and legislative branches. The Obama Administration included a significant level of funding for the project in the FY2011 and FY2012 budgets. We received the budgeted amount of $55 million in an FY2011 appropriation in spite of the overall decline in the total funding available for the New Starts program. The federal transit funding program is a competitive program based on a project’s merits so a solid and good project like ours does well in the competition.

3. Much of the conversation these days is about rail, but that's only one piece of the transportation picture. What can you tell us about the city's implementation of bike plans to make Honolulu safer and friendlier for cyclists?

The update of the Oahu Bike Plan is planned for release in October 2011. The Bike Plan expands the 1999 Bike Plan from the urban area of Honolulu to the entire island of O`ahu. The updated Bike Plan stresses connectivity as a major goal. Additionally, the plan is prioritized to focus efforts on areas with high bike demand. A truly multi-modal approach was used in developing the update, including identifying connections between bike facilities and transit stations for the planned Honolulu High Capacity Transit Corridor Project (HHCTCP). A key improvement in the update Bike Plan is the inclusion of interim projects. The ultimate Bike Plan is impressive, but it will not be built overnight or all at once. There needs to be incremental improvements made in working toward the ultimate plan and that is what the interim projects provide. DTS is coordinating with other City agencies such as DDC and DFM to maximize the efficient use of taxpayer dollars. An example is the Keolu Drive bike lanes which were completed as part of the Keolu Drive roadway resurfacing project for very little cost over the cost of the resurfacing project.

4. Even with rail, buses will continue to be a major part of the city's public transportation planning. There's some concern that money needed for the bus system will be diverted to rail. What would you tell people about that concern? Will people still be able to take their favorite bus to work and will it be in the kind of condition that our buses are today?

The City and County of Honolulu is absolutely committed to maintaining a strong bus system during and after construction of the Honolulu High Capacity Transit Corridor Project (HHCTCP). The financial plan for the HHCTCP identified the use of a portion of formula funds (FTA 5307 funds) that have traditionally been used for bus programs as part of its federal funding. It is hoped that, as in the recent past, the contract costs for construction of the HHCTCP will continue to be less than estimated in the financial plan. As contracts are executed and as the design of the HHCTCP is finalized, it is believed that the FTA 5307 funds will not be needed.

5. A lawsuit has been filed in federal court challenging the environmental review. It claims the city didn't adequately consider alternatives. What do you say to people who believe at-grade light rail, bus rapid transit or hot lanes would have been a better solution for Honolulu's traffic problem?

I believe all viable alternatives were considered through the project development process. People can easily look up the reports and other documents that support the City Council’s decision in selecting a grade-separated fixed guideway system.

To that last point we’d add our own recommendation to those who are curious why Honolulu's system will be elevated along its 20-mile route. Visit our “aggregation site” for links to nine Yes2Rail posts on why elevated rail is far superior to surface rail in this city.

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