Council poised to go off the rail


POSTED: Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Honolulu's City Council, which represents almost 900,000 people on Oahu, is about to make a major fiscal and political error. It is about to grant the authority to the city administration to start rail without environmental approvals and without federal monies. It also plans to approve to start the project about a mile outside Kapolei and develop a six-mile elevated rail to Waipahu.

Worse yet are plans to approve the float of $1.1 billion in bonds for rail with no stipulations or accountability controls. This $1.1 billion obligation must be paid back by the Oahu taxpayer, plus interest.

These actions demonstrate a lack of responsibility, due diligence and common sense. Here is a partial list of what is lacking in this process:

» Lack of uncertainty analysis in costs and ridership. The city and its consultants follow the bankrupt Everything Goes According to Plan principle. They have a cost contingency plan but it'll evaporate by this prolonged recession. Most economists do not predict much growth for at least five years into the future. The city's solution to insufficient funds will be more taxes, but the feds cannot approve a financial plan that is not grounded in current reality.

» How about the ridership? This project was justified by the assumption that by 2030 there will be so many more residents in Leeward Oahu and so many more jobs all over Oahu that 738,000 more daily trips would occur in 2030 than in 2005, and 401,000 of these new trips would develop between Aiea, Mililani and Kapolei. Is there anyone who believes that this assumption is correct? The cost-effectiveness criteria for this project are now much lower than calculated in 2006. Updated estimates could disqualify it for federal funds.

» Lack of sufficient investigation of technologies more suitable to Oahu's environment, such as underground segments and at-grade segments. True light rail, in full or in part, was never studied.

» Lack of sound decision-making, which would have chosen an initial operating segment between Ala Moana Center and Aloha Stadium.

» Lack of sound decision-making in proceeding with construction without a completed and specific funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Actually this count alone qualifies Council actions as reckless and contrary to the best interests of the Oahu citizenry that it represents.

The U.S. is broke and the FTA faces several hundred billion dollars of necessary maintenance of existing transit systems, including rail and bus fleets, thus billion-dollar allocations to new systems are unlikely.

How much taxation escalation and irresponsible decision-making is enough before a tipping point is reached and Oahu begins to lose population at an accelerated rate? (Thus making rail even more irrelevant.)

Oahu lost a few thousand people from 2006 to the present time. More taxes, fewer services and rail to nowhere add to the existing misery and are strong incentives for a mass exodus.

Panos D. Prevedouros, Ph.D., is a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, and a former candidate for mayor.