Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Serious Quest: Searching for Candidate’s Option To Rail that Would Help Commuters Avoid Traffic; What We Found: Lots of Unanswered Questions

We’re on a serious search to understand Ben Cayetano’s “plan” to provide some kind of relief to commuters from Oahu’s traffic congestion problem, which already is severe and can only get worse.

Mr. Cayetano is an avowed opponent of the city’s intention to build a 20-mile rail line through the urban corridor that would serve communities throughout its length and beyond.

It’s not asking too much to demand some concrete ideas by this mayoral candidate about what he’d do instead of building the traffic-avoiding option of elevated rail transit. (See the blue field above and our disclaimer about what Yes2Rail is not – a political blog.)

This week’s announcement by the Federal Transit Administration granting the project a Letter of No Prejudice has cleared the way for nearly $200 million in heavy construction along Phase One – from East Kapolei to Waipahu. Such a major step would surely also provoke Mr. Cayetano to provide his detailed plan, or so you’d think. After all, 10,000 jobs are hanging in the balance, not to mention future decades of traffic-free travel by untold numbers of Oahu residents.

Unfortunately, Mr. Cayetano isn’t so easily provoked. To be sure, posted a commentary by the former governor yesterday in response to the LONP. HR is the favorite channel for anti-railers like Mr. Cayetano and Cliff Slater, whose decades-long arguments against mass transit can now be found in Mr. Cayetano’s campaign statements. (Messrs. Cayetano and Slater are shown here in their attorney’s office when they announced their lawsuit to kill rail.)

Concerns Sans Plans
But exactly what does Mr. Cayetano want to do for long-suffering highway commuters to ease their weekday trips to and from work through our narrow east-west corridor? They’ve been patient enough over the decades as city mass transit projects have been launched, only to fail thanks to the efforts of Mr. Slater and his car-loving friends.

The FTA’s LONP means we’re literally weeks away from major construction on Phase One, so we poured over Mr. Cayetano’s 472-word statement in HawaiiReporter issued after the FTA’s action to see what he’d say about building an option to elevated rail.

There wasn’t one word in that statement about an option, let alone details about a transportation plan. We even used our browser’s Find function to search for a few key words that might offer insight into Mr. Cayetano’s thinking – transit, bus, trolley, highway, even HOV. Alas, not one of these words is in his statement except for their use in the FTA’s name and within the word “business.” (The word “transit” can’t be found at his campaign site’s Platform page either – more on that below.)

How can that be? Isn’t Mr. Cayetano’s “plan” what residents (and reporters) should be demanding from the man who vows to kill rail in both the Gang of Four federal lawsuit and his campaign? If not elevated rail to give commuters a traffic-avoiding option, what does he want?

Dissecting Cayetano
For sure, the commentary covers Mr. Cayetano’s concerns about the cost of the project. That’s to be expected about the most expensive endeavor in state history, and he has company. The FTA is watching project costs like a hawk, so is the City Council and so is the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and both pro- and anti-rail citizens.

But that’s where he stops short – lamenting the project’s $5.3 billion cost while suggesting that money could better be spent upgrading Honolulu’s sewers, storm drains and potholes. It’s at this point we’re reminded of the Doctor Pepper TV spot (or is it Coke Zero?) in which the main actor keeps asking “And…..?“ every time he’s offered something (a job, an ice cream cone, etc.) but expects more.

We wanted more from Mr. Cayetano than this somewhat bizarre commentary. At one point he channels Mr. Slater’s dumbed-down talking point about how “the City concedes rail will not reduce future traffic congestion below current levels – a statement with which the FTA agreed on page 208 of its Record of Decision.”

What are we to make of Mr. Cayetano’s use of this hackneyed observation? At a minimum, we conclude he doesn’t even know rail’s goals – to restore mobility to citizens, improve travel times, ensure transportation equity among all users and guide rational future development.

Please read this sentence aloud for the benefit of anyone sitting nearby: “Rail will not reduce traffic below current levels decades from now because Oahu’s population will continue to grow far above current levels!”

We almost welcome the continued use by Messrs. Slater and Cayetano of such an easily exploded argument (see yesterday’s post), but the rail project is too important to have the community’s discussion on it mucked up by this intellectually dishonest sloganeering.

Veering into the Past
Something else strange in Mr. Cayetano’s post-LONP statement was this emphasis on his previous governmental service, which ended in 2002 (that's his official portrait as governor below):

“As for (Senator Daniel Inouye’s) comment that ‘there are a lot of things involved in the management of a large city like Honolulu, a city that represents over half (900,000 to be more exact) the population of the whole state,’ the good senator forgets that the people gave me the privilege of governing the population of the entire state – 1.2 million residents – for eight years during some tough economic times – and he apparently has forgotten the supportive remarks he made about my performance when he endorsed me in my 1994 and 1998 elections.”
Does Mr. Cayetano believe the senator’s previous support has immunized him from criticism of his current anti-rail stance? The former governor’s apparent misunderstanding of rail’s goals and his disinclination to offer details on an alternative to rail is embarrassingly obvious to casual observers. We can only imagine how put off Mr. Inouye must be by attempts to kill the latest version of a project for which the senator has fought so hard and so long.

More Buses?
Mr. Cayetano formally announced his candidacy three weeks ago tomorrow. So far, he’s failed to present a detailed vision of a transportation plan that would serve commuters better than Honolulu rail. The closest his campaign comes, it seems, is on its Platform page, which displays a January 30th statement attributed to Mr. Cayetano. He says he’d improve the city’s bus system “by developing dedicated lanes for express buses on the freeway….”

“Buses have greater flexibility and will be able to go into different communities, pick up passengers and drive them to downtown nonstop on dedicated lanes – avoiding the need for transfers as would be required for rail….”
This statement again reveals how little the candidate understands Honolulu rail. Not only will a time-consuming “transfer” not be required when using both TheBus and the train, the bus system is already slated to do what Mr. Cayetano thinks it should do – “go into different communities, pick up passengers and drive them” to the nearest rail station, where they'll board a train and ride in comfort above street-level buses and other vehicles.

An example of missing details: His statement doesn’t say how his neighborhood-cruising buses would access the dedicated express bus lanes. The current Zipper Lane has entrances and exits at its ends. Residents of neighborhoods along the bus expressway might well wonder how their neighborhood’s buses would access those lanes – and how much expense would be involved in building the ramps and otherwise modifying the highways.

The campaign’s Platform Page ends with this invitation: “Got Questions? Contact us.” At this point, one will suffice:  

“Mr. Cayetano, what exactly are the details of your plan to provide relief to west-side commuters?”

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