Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Sunday, November 25, 2001

Rapid transit bus plan
draws from several funds

Question: There appears to be some confusion among city officials over the status of federal funding for the proposed "bus rapid transit" system. Some have indicated that it is already appropriated; others have implied that it is in a pending appropriation bill and still others have suggested that it has simply been promised. Can you clarify the status of this funding, so essential if the project is ever to become a reality?

Answer: It's confusing for several reasons: There are different sources of federal funding involved; the funding involves ongoing spending for buses and such that already tap into federal funding; and it is a project that will be done in phases.

Some money has already been appropriated and spent specifically to help develop the project; a big chunk of federal money is being sought to help build the BRT portion; and regularly incoming federal money continues to be spent to keep city buses running, etc.

Honolulu is among a group of cities pursuing federal funds to build a BRT.

We received an explanation of the project from city Transportation Services Director Cheryl Soon. With the BRT, the city is hoping to ease traffic congestion by building bus-dedicated lanes between Honolulu Airport and Waikiki/University of Hawaii. It involves making use of the current fleet of buses, while adding in projected costs to replace and maintain them over a 25-year period.

A price tag of $1.069 billion has been estimated for the total project: $882 million for work in both the outlying and town portions of the system and $187 million for bus replacement, Soon said. Target completion date to build the BRT, if all goes according to plan, is 2010.

If you add up all the different sources of federal funding available -- regular grant money, federal transit money, federal highway funds, etc. -- Soon estimated 72 percent of the cost would be covered by federal funds.

"In the financial plan, a large portion of federal funds come from formula funds, which we get every year," Soon said. That amounts to $23 million to $24 million annually.

She emphasized the BRT portion itself will not cost over $1 billion.

"We have to show the federal government what our expenditures will be over a 25-year period and can we afford it," she said. Part of it is showing the costs of maintaining and replacing the city's fleet of 525 buses.

"Buses don't last 25 years, so we have to replace them we at least twice during that period," she said.

Regarding the cost of building the BRT: The town portion of the BRT, between Middle Street and Waikiki/UH, "which is what many people think of as the BRT," would cost approximately $400 million, Soon said.

That includes purchasing 40 vehicles and replacing vehicles over a 25-year period, she said.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement indicates there would be $182 million available from the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts fund to help build the BRT system, she said. That fund is the largest of several federal sources the city hopes to utilize.

To qualify for New Starts funding, the city has to submit a final EIS, which it expects to complete in February. It will take FTA officials two to three months to review the EIS and to decide whether to give the city the money, Soon said.

Meanwhile, the city also is proposing to work with the state in extending its Zipper Lane in the morning from the airport viaduct to Middle Street, adding an afternoon Zipper Lane and building four new ramps to access the Zipper Lane.

How much of the total $237 million cost of that component ($165 million to extend the lane and put it in service in the afternoon, plus $72 million for the new ramps) would be covered by federal funds will depend on what federal fund the city opts to go after, Soon said.

For example, if the city were to seek only federal highway funds, that would amount to $154 million over a 10-year period, she said. The state Department of Transportation, however, working with the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, decides how to disburse federal highway funds for Oahu projects.

So far, Congress has appropriated $8.6 million for the Honolulu project, which the city has been using to prepare the EIS.

"We passed the draft EIS stage, we are in the middle of the final EIS stage and we are preparing for the final design and construction phase," Soon said.

BRT "makes use of federal funding, but is not totally reliant on it," she said. For the town portion of the project, the city administration is looking at "half local and half federal funds," subject to oversight by the City Council and the Federal Transit Administration.


Our home used to have two (approx. 5 feet tall) ponytail palms in pots along the sides of our driveway. Late last Sunday evening or early Monday morning, they were taken by persons unknown! These plants and others alongside our property along Auwaiolimu Street on Punchbowl beautify the neighborhood and were planted by our father/grandfather for the enjoyment of everyone traversing the busy street. We are greatly disturbed and disappointed that people would steal the plants. We wonder if the next time we look, the rest of the plants will be dug up and taken. -- The Ho Family

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