Isle commuters need choices, not distortions
It isn't surprising that the Highway Users Alliance advocates more highways as a solution to our transportation woes, but it is disappointing that the HHUA's column Thursday was full of pothole-ridden logic, touted poorly disguised opinions as "facts" and resorted to fear mongering.
» Distortion No. 1 -- Rail is environmentally insensitive.
Because rail will run on electricity, it can make use of alternative and renewable energy sources like solar, wind or H-POWER. The same can't be said for cars or buses. In terms of a direct comparison, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's 2007 Transportation Energy Data Book, the average rail system in the United States used 2,754 BTU per passenger mile while the average passenger vehicle consumed 3,793 BTU per passenger mile. With cars consuming 36 percent more energy, it is clear that it is the behavior of continuing to drive cars in congested conditions that is environmentally insensitive.
» Distortion No. 2 -- Rail is expensive.
From a consumer's perspective, using a private vehicle is more expensive. Considering maintenance and insurance costs, paying $4 to $5 per gallon of gas, and paying $12 a day for downtown parking, driving a car is very expensive. If you add paying a nearly $13 round-trip toll for a grade-separated viaduct, driving is a lot more painful to the pocketbook.
More and more people in Honolulu are discovering this and leaving their cars at home and turning to mass transit. From a transportation agency perspective, highways are expensive to construct and expensive to maintain. The HHUA column itself discusses the need for pavement management. Building more roadways increases this cost.
» Distortion No. 3 -- Tolls will cover the construction and maintenance costs for an elevated, reversible toll highway.
Not true. In evaluating toll roads as part of the Alternatives Analysis process, we estimated that charging a peak hour toll of $6.40 would generate only enough revenue to pay for maintenance and operating costs and 23 percent of the debt service payments on the bonds needed to pay for construction of the facility. This means that 77 percent of the construction cost of the toll highway needs to come from somewhere other than tolls.
» Distortion No. 4 -- Buses and taxis are a more efficient way to move people.
The plain and simple fact is that a single train can move 300 people -- the equivalent of six buses or between 250 and 300 cars. A rail line with a single track in each direction can carry the equivalent of a six-lane freeway. Putting Honolulu's rail line on a dedicated, elevated guideway means passengers will know, every time, exactly when they will arrive at their destination. The concepts for HHUA's proposed elevated roadway all assume that vehicles will come back down to grade, mixing with at-grade traffic, and contributing to and being affected by the traffic congestion and the unpredictable delays that occur on the street network.
Rail transit is good for mobility, good for the environment, good for the economy, good for communities and good for all of Oahu's families. Honolulu's rail transit project is an investment in our future that enjoys the full support of Hawaii's congressional delegation, comes with the pledge of $900 million in federal funding from the head of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and is recognized by the head of the Federal Transportation Administration as one of the best projects in the country.
Unlike the anti-rail critics, those of us who support rail transit aren't against highways, or cars, or taxis or buses. We're simply for transportation choices that are reliable, predictable, environmentally sustainable and economically sound.
Wayne Yoshioka is the director of the city Department of Transportation Services.