Thursday, September 29, 2011

Community Meetings Offer Rail Project Info; Officials Address Issue of Congestion Growth

Residents turned out for a rail project briefing at Kalani High School last night.
The second of five community town hall meetings provided an in-depth briefing on the Honolulu rail project last night and answered more than a dozen questions from residents.

One of them during the Kalani High School meeting alluded to the assertion by rail opponents that the city only reluctantly has addressed the issue of future congestion on streets and highways after rail is built.

Public opinion polls and election results show that anti-rail leader Cliff Slater has been fighting a losing battle for years, so he’s taken to making an issue out of what most would consider an obvious fact: Building rail will not reverse the inevitable growth of congestion.

Toru Hamayasu, interim executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), said the city always has been open about the anticipated growth of traffic. He said Oahu’s population is expected to be about 30 percent higher in 2030 than in 2005.

Hamayasu said there will be about 40,000 fewer cars traveling on Oahu’s streets and highways after rail is built and noted that “without rail, traffic would be much much worse.” Rail will give commuters an alternative to sitting in traffic. Hamayasu said the city anticipates an 18-percent reduction in hours of traffic delay in the urban corridor with rail in place.

HART board member Wayne Yoshioka, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, said rail will be part of a mobility “paradigm shift” since there’s no expectation that many new roads will be built.

He noted that bicycle riders and pedestrians are demanding greater attention by transportation planners, and as that happens, road capacity may even decrease somewhat with the construction of dedicated lanes for bicyclists.

“There’s no silver bullet (in transportation planning), and everything has to work together,” Yoshioka said. “Rail will be a key component in the overall program.”

Additional Issues
A resident expressed a concern that the archeological inventory survey that’s about to begin may discover numerous burial sites along the project’s route. He asked whether the construction schedule includes potential delays due to these findings.

Hamayasu said there are no known burial sites at this time and that the survey will be completed over the course of a year. He said the project’s contingency fund amounts to 21 percent of the project’s $5.5 billion budget and likely will accommodate any adjustments that may be required due to archeological finds.

Concerns over federal government budget restraints prompted a resident to ask about the city’s contingencies if some or all of the anticipated $1.55 billion in federal funding isn’t received.

Hamayasu said the federal money will arrive in a “stream” during seven or eight years of construction but that it could take longer. If something occurs to reduce federal support, he said the city’s options could include additional sources of revenue, such as extending the half-percent GET rail surcharge beyond 2022, and reducing project costs.

Hamayasu noted that GET collections through last year were $715 million compared to the financial plan’s expectation of $699 million. Contracts already executed have saved the city $315 million compared to the original budget. He said President Obama’s recent action to inject $50 billion in transportation infrastructure funding is a strong indication of federal support for projects like Honolulu rail.

Other issues raised included a resident’s request for “greater accountability” on the project’s spending to date. He urged HART to “please hold the city’s feet to the fire” to divulge how revenues from GET collections and federal funding have been spent.

Another resident noted that the city anticipates 116,000 daily trips on the system and asked whether there would be additional capacity if that ridership is achieved. Hamayasu said the system will have an additional 50 percent of built-in capacity to respond to higher demand.

Additional Meetings
Three more town hall briefings are scheduled – tonight at Highlands Intermediate School in Pearl City, Tuesday at Castle High School in Kaneohe and Wednesday in the Blaisdell Center’s Maui conference room. All meetings are from 6 to 8 p.m.

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