Rail plan falls far short in meeting isle's needs
THE League of Women Voters of Honolulu fears the mayor's rail transit plan will lead our city into a fiscal black hole without improving traffic conditions.
Let's apply Mayor Mufi Hannemann's own campaign mantra to this plan.
» Do we need it? Honolulu needs relief from traffic congestion. By the city's own Alternative Analysis, the rail plan will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion. In fact, with rail in place, congestion will increase.
» Can we afford it? The mayor proposes to pay for it with an increase on the tax that weighs most heavily on the poor: the general excise tax. Even that increase will not pay for it. Property taxes will have to be raised considerably, on top of the recent tax increases.
» Can we maintain it? Our bumpy, potholed city streets and decrepit sewage system hardly give us confidence. How will the city maintain a complex train system with 30 stations just inviting graffiti, crime and vandalism?
A far better solution is an elevated roadway for buses, van pools, emergency vehicles and high-occupancy vehicles. An elevated highway would cost a fraction of the rail system, of which the Federal Highway Administration might provide an 80 percent subsidy. The Alternatives Analysis uses $1.2 billion as the federal funding despite the fact that the Federal Transit Administration told the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization that about $450 million would be the practical limit.
Express buses entering the elevated highway could proceed to town at 60 mph. Because trains must stop at every stop, the average speed would be 25 mph.
Buses could thus carry as many as or more passengers than the train, at far greater speeds. Buses could go from where people live to where people work. The linear train cannot go into neighborhoods where people live. Few would choose to take a bus to the train, get off the train in town, then take a bus to where they work.
In November the city commissioned a transit poll. Forty-five percent of those polled chose rail; 21 percent chose boosting the efficiency of the bus system and constructing more highways; 20 percent chose expanding the bus system and building a viaduct as a toll road. Of the remaining respondents, 10 percent said they didn't know, and 5 percent preferred the "no build" option, which focuses on replacing buses and highway construction.
Not knowing how the question was worded, we cannot know how informed that 45 percent was. However, there is no avoiding the fact that the poll found that the majority did not support rail.
Who will benefit from building the rail system? The construction industry and unions and developers are eagerly awaiting the transit-oriented developments.
Who will be hurt? People whose property will be condemned to make way for rail. People who will live and work near the rail line. Despite the pretty pictures of monorails and light rail, this system is heavy rail: steel wheels on steel rails, at 77 decibels, according to the 1992 environmental impact statement. Airports must insulate nearby homes when aircraft noise exceeds 65 decibels over a 24-hour period.
And what about the transportation of goods? Rail would do nothing to help distribute the necessities that trucks carry. Rail is no help with emergency services and during evacuations.
Rail is not needed because it does not improve traffic congestion. We cannot expect rail to be maintained, because the city has a long record of neglect of vital public infrastructure.
Pearl Johnson is the chairwoman of the Planning and Transportation Committee, League of Women Voters of Honolulu.