Thursday, May 24, 2012
Mayoral Debate Probed Hard for Answer to This: ‘Mr. Cayetano, You Intend To Kill Rail, so What Are the Details of Your Bus Rapid Transit Plan?’ Candidate Gave Us All of 20 Words on His ‘Plan’
A close approximation of that question was indeed asked during last night’s televised mayoral debate – not by Tim “Rail PR Nightmare” Sakahara or Richard “Ben’s My Guy” Borreca, but by Hawaii News Now’s Keoki Kerr, who’s not even regularly assigned to cover rail. He should be.
Rail IS the issue, and that makes Ben Cayetano’s bus rapid transit plan that he wants to implement in rail’s place an issue, too. But we didn’t learn much at all about Mr. Cayetano’s BRT plan in the debate – no details, no time estimates, no descriptions, no lane changes or elevated section locations, no hard costs, nothing.
Yes2Rail, a pro-rail non-political blog, supports construction of the project as now planned and believes Mr. Cayetano essentially is asking Honolulu residents to buy his pig in a poke BRT scheme based on a 10-year-old study and a lot of worst-case fear mongering.
Here’s what Mr. Kerr asked Mr. Cayetano; we’ve highlighted the “specifics” of the candidate’s BRT plan in red – a total of 20 words!
“Mr. Cayetano, please offer specifics on your plan for a bus rapid transit system and how it will be better far into the future when the population of Oahu has grown significantly.”
Mr. Cayetano’s response:
“Well, first, Keoki, let me say that the latest state population survey indicates that by 2030 the population will grow by one hundred thousand, so we’ll have just over a million. In 2003, Parsons Brinckerhoff produced an EIS that rated bus rapid transit superior to rail. We the taxpayers paid Parsons Brinckerhoff more than ten million dollars to do this study. A year later, the mayor changes. Mayor Hannemann comes in and says ‘I want steel on steel.’ If you want to look at my plan, it’s based basically on bus rapid transit. Attend our forums. We have it laid out. We propose things like better traffic synchronization, more express buses, and then we’ll get to in our second phase the bus rapid transit system on dedicated lanes.”
Mr. Kerr: “Can you tell the voters any specifics? How much will this cost? Where would that money come from? Are you gonna use exclusive lanes on the freeway and surface roads, sir?”
Mr. Cayetano: “Yes, the study by Parsons in 2003 indicated it would cost about a billion dollars. I don’t envision it costing that much. We’ll use existing lanes, yes. That’s part of the strategy of bus rapid transit. Will it have dedicated lanes, yes. There’s no city our size in this nation that has either built or plans to build steel on steel. They’re all moving to bus rapid transit.”
The other candidates were given time to comment on Mr. Cayetano’s answer.
Mayor Peter Carlisle: “You know, I think the critical point that’s been asked again and again is essentially, what are the specifics? We’re not getting specifics. What roads are going to be taken down? What different lanes are going to be separated (indistinct)? Are we taking the shoulder roads? I’ve heard something like that. Anybody who’s been a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney like you and me knows the concept of a forgiving roadway. If you don’t have that, you increase accidents. If something is stalled on one side or the bus stalls on the other side, what happens to that? What happens to the stuff that’s coming behind? Those are the details, and if those aren’t satisfied….(interrupted by moderator).”
Former Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell: “Keoki, you’re asking all the right questions. Others are asking the same of Ben. They haven’t got an answer yet. He’s referring to a study that’s now ten years old. We don’t know how it’s gonna be paid for. We don’t know where it’s exactly gonna go. We’ve heard it’ll be elevated, with massive off-ramps and on-ramps coming into our town. But we do know this: 58 hours a year now sitting in traffic for our island, the most congested city in the entire country, and Ben wants to dump hundreds of more buses onto these roads adding to that congestion. That’s not a plan. That’s a disaster.”
Other Rail Exchanges
Mr. Caldwell: “Ben, do you understand that the cost of constructing Honolulu’s rail system is paid for in full when the project is completed? There is no debt. There is no 30-year mortgage – paid for in full.”
Mr. Cayetano: “I surely understand that, but that assumes that everything will be perfect, that the revenue will come in as predicted, that there will be no cost overruns. The trouble with that is that there are three studies, one by the state, two by the FTA actually which predict that the cost will be seven billion and not five point two seven billion. Now, if you want (rail) to go to Manoa as you wanted, add another one point eight billion to that amount. How is that gonna be covered?”
Mr. Caldwell: “Ben, so you admitted it is fully paid for, and you understand there’s no debt, even though you tell people that we’re gonna have to use real property taxes to pay for this system. In fact, money that we’re collecting right now, we have a healthy eight hundred million dollar contingency to cover cost overruns, and therefore, it is not something you need to scare the people of this city and county with.”
Mr. Cayetano: “I’m not scaring anyone. I’m giving them the facts. Look, there’ve been ninety-three changes orders so far on this contract, OK? The studies as I pointed out (say) there’s gonna be cost overruns. The FTA’s own studies indicate that these projects average a forty-percent cost overrun. We’re talkin’ about a seven billion dollar project. Now, how’s that gonna be paid?”
Mr. Caldwell: “You keep referring to this study. The study I think you’re talkin’ about is one that Linda Lingle had done when she sat on the FEIS for almost a year and hired someone who’s anti-rail to do this study and come up with this trumped-up figure. But here are the facts. We have the U.S. Department of Transportation and FTA both saying the project at five point two billion is appropriate, and they hired a third party to come in and do a study and say the number is correct. So you keep referring to a fact that’s not correct, and we have many facts from federal authorities and third parties that verify that five point two billion is what the project is gonna cost.”
Not About Rail?
In his closing remarks, Mr. Cayetano said, “This election is not about rail. It’s about leadership.” If it’s not about rail, Mr. Cayetano's leadership has fooled us all with his Rail Truth Squad, his chili-and-rice get-togethers to discuss rail, his rail-focused pressconferences and his campaign website, which had five rail-related items on its home page last night.
If anything, the debate showed Honolulu’s handful of reporters who cover Honolulu rail and the election that it's OK to ask Mr. Cayetano questions about his transportation agenda. The former governor may talk tough and affect an air of intimidation, but once you get beyond his aggressive stance and fear-mongering about what could go wrong with rail, Mr. Cayetano doesn’t have much to offer about his buses, and he avoids completely any discussion of BRT’s presumed impact on relieving congestion, which one of his opponents termed "a disaster."
Mr. Cayetano had an opportunity to shut down his critics by providing those elusive BRT details that Mr. Kerr and others are seeking. He didn’t do that, and we suspect it’s because he now realizes only elevated rail will give commuters in the H-1 corridor relief from the congestion they’ve come to loath. More buses wouldn't.