Council pores over transit study
Members grill a city official about funding for the mayor's proposed rail system
A $10 million transit study presented by Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration was met by a barrage of questions from the City Council yesterday, a sure sign that a proposed multibillion-dollar rail system has shocked some sensibilities.
Council members fired question after question on cost, ridership, even what they got for the $10 million study.
More importantly, they wanted to know the next step.
"Sounds like a lot of risk to me," Councilman Charles Djou told city project manager and chief transportation planner Toru Hamayasu.
And it was clear that council members remain concerned about the expense, asking how the city will pay for the project should federal funds come up short.
The Alternatives Analysis study by the Honolulu High Capacity Transit Corridor Project team targets a 20-mile and 28-mile rail route as the top transit options for Honolulu.
The shorter route would run from east Kapolei to Ala Moana Center and cost $3.6 billion.
A longer line would travel from the western edge of Kapolei to the University of Hawaii at Manoa at a cost of $4.6 billion. Additional capital costs that include an expanded bus system would push the cost of the shorter route to $4.2 billion and the longer route to between $5.2 billion and $6.1 billion.
The report, which looked at four transit alternatives, was submitted to the Council on Monday. The Council wanted the study by Nov. 1 so it could choose a transit alternative before a 0.5 percent general excise tax increase to fund the project goes into effect Jan. 1.
The new cost estimates sent a wave of questions over whether the city can afford a rail system.
"Right now, just doing the math ... the amount of revenue we're bringing in is not going to meet the cost. The balance is going to have to be made up by the federal government," Djou said.
"What happens if either (a) federal funding is not as rich as we are hoping, and/or (b) the economic growth or projections are not as optimistic or do not turn out how we hope -- then what?" Djou asked.
Hamayasu said the range of potential federal funding is within accepted Federal Transit Administration parameters.
Councilwoman Barbara Marshall wanted to know how the ridership numbers were calculated, and whether the project would make enough of a dent in traffic congestion. "So it's kind of a guess," Marshall said. "And even if it's a very good guess, that doesn't seem like very much for the money."
Hamayasu said the report used the same forecasting model as other government agencies in coming up with the ridership figures for projects such as constructing the H-3 freeway, Nimitz viaduct and the North-South Road. "It's always an educated guess," Hamayasu said.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she's still not sure what the Council needs to vote on before the end of the year, and what can wait. "It keeps changing. See, I heard we just had to select the route before Dec. 31 from Kapolei to whatever, but not all the, what you call an alignment. But now you're telling us we have to select that before Dec. 31, which makes it a little more difficult, but not impossible," Kobayashi said.