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Read Ben Cayetano’s response to the Civil Beat article, “Bus Rapid Transit: The Devil’s in the Details, But What Are They?”

Read Ben Cayetano's response to the Civil Beat article, "Bus Rapid Transit: The Devil's in the Details, But What Are They?"


Ben Cayetano

As I told Civil Beat yesterday, the specifics of my BRT plan will be unveiled in the upcoming Sunday issue of the StarAdvertiser (June 3, 2012).

CB notes that Honolulu was ranked No. 1 among the top ten cities with the worst traffic congestion. CB should have also pointed out that the other nine cities all have long standing, expensive and heavily subsidized rail systems which apparently have not resolved their respective traffic congestion problems.

CB points out that Honolulu’s bus system is rated tops in the nation and that a BRT system could accomplish virtually the same results at much lower costs.

So why was BRT rejected and a $10 million EIS wasted? Politics. Newly elected Mayor Hannemann declared that the only option he would support was “steel on steel” rail. Hannemann then embarked on an unprecedented, multi-million dollar public relations campaign to sell rail, representing to the public that it was required by the FTA which, as Councilman Breene Harimoto found out to his embarassment, turned out to be false.

According to CB, the City hired ten public relations firms to sell rail. It worked, temporarily. According to a 2009 poll by the Honolulu Advertiser, 73% of the public believed rail would reduce traffic congestion. Most prominent was Senator Dan Inouye who on several occasions stated publicly that rail would reduce traffic congestion.

Subsequently, the public discovered that both the City and the Federal Transit Administration admit in the EIS and other documents that rail will not reduce traffic congestion — that “traffic congestion in the future with rail will be worse than it is today without rail.”

The public’s reaction? Recent polls by both CB and the Star-Advertiser revealed that public support for rail has eroded dramatically and the majority (53-55%) now oppose rail.

Why? They see the city rushing the project, awarding multi-million dollar contracts even though the FTA and Congress have not approved a Full Funding Agreement. They hear preposterous statements such as “it’s cheaper to build (rail structures) and tear it down later” and wonder why construction was started in an empty field 3-4 miles from Kapolei town rather than from the city and build outward and what happens if the $1.5 billion federal funding is not approved.

This dramatic turn around in public opinion may be attributed to one major reason: the majority of the public have concluded that the city has misled them — a feeling shared by a FTA staffer who wrote that the FTA should disassociate itself from the city’s “public manipulation”.

So while CB demands more “specifics” of my BRT based plan, my opponents have desperately tried to shift the argument for rail from “reducing traffic congestion” to “creating 10,000 new jobs each year” — and now to the unquantifiable and illusory “transit oriented development” for which as City Director of Planning and Permitting David Tanoue pointed out, the city could not issue permits today because the sewer system is old and could not support it.

As another distraction, both of my opponents have declared they want rail extended to UH, Waikiki, Manoa, North Shore, Hawaii Kai, Windward Oahu and downtown Kailua. Of course, they offer no specifics

Hey Kirk and Peter, here are my sugestions: ask the City engineers and/or Parsons Brinkerhoff whether the grade in Manoa is too steep for steel on steel rail or how much that tunnel for rail to go through the Koolaus to Windward Oahu would cost.

Here’s a hint: according to HART’s Dan Grabauskas the cost to extend rail to Kapolei, UH and Waikiki would be another $4 billion which added to the $5.27 billion for the 20 mile segment totals $9.03 billion. The UH extension alone would cost $1.8 billion. Of course, these are HART’s estimates, add the average 40% cost overrun and the total is roughly $12 billion.

Finally, forget Waikiki. The tourism industry is dead set against an elevated, steel on steel heavy rail system running along Kuhio Avenue or anywhere through Waikiki. I guess the City did not ask industry leaders for their opinion before touting the Waikiki extension.

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Ben Cayetano

First, for those who want more details about my BRT plan I suggest they read the 2003 EIS which was approved by me as governor and accepted by the FTA. After my plan is published by the Star-Advertiser tomorrow (Sunday, 6/3), they can find the link to the EIS on my website at

Second, the 2003 EIS BRT found BRT superior to elevted rail — not trolley cars as some pro-railers have suggested.

Here’s what the 2003 EIS said about rail: “The concerns that led to the rejection of the most recently proposed elevated rapid transit system were primarily two: (1) its high cost and (2) its physical and visual impacts … Public input received of Vision Team and Oahu Trans 2K meetings attended by thousands of O’ahu residents revealed widespread agreement that while an elevated transit system might serve goals of improving in-town mobility and strengthening, the connections between communities, such a system would not foster liveable communities.

The predominant sentiment among thousands of participants was that a grade-seperated system would be unacceptably (1) intrusive on the visual environment; (2) divisive of communities; and (3) too expensive.

These shortcomings were judged by public participants to outweigh the recognized benefits of a grade- seperated system, …” Source: Final EIS for the BRT Project, FTA and City, July 2003, p. 2-57.

In other words, the public wanted no part of elevated-rail. The $1.04 billion cost to build BRT is taken from Table 6.1-1 in the 2003 EIS. I believe the cost can be reduced by eliminating the $129 million cost for embedded plate technology (EPT) for the regional phase of BRT.I’ve made it clear that I will develop an “enhanced version” of BRT.

The 2003 BRT was divided into two main phases: (1) the Regional phase ; (2) In-Town phase. The Regional phase is basically acceptable although there may some improvements as the plan is further developed.

The In-Town phase received much criticism because the BRT line would run on Kapiolani and Ala Moana boulevards, both of which are heavily congested. I take such criticism seriously and we will review the In-Town phase with a focus on using King and Beretania streets instead.

Some of my critics have been loose with the facts. For example, the pedantic and self-absorbed Hannah Miyamoto wrote that Oahu’s population will increase by 200,000 in 2030. This is based on an old state population survey.

The most recent state population survey reduced the estimate from 200,000 to 100,000. The City knows this but continued to rely on the old state population survey because the reduced estimate to 100,000 would have an obvious negative impact on its ridership forecasts.

Criticism that I am against poor people and workers, that anyone who is anti-rail is racist is plain idiotic. Whether it’s posts by paid pro-rail hacks, radio and television attack ads, push polls by PRP and others — these wild attacks show how desperate our critics have become. They are worried sick that I will win.

The rail project was proposed to reduce traffic congestion. We now know that both the City and the FTA concede it will not. We know that the City has spent more than $5 million in hyping rail, showing air brushed renderings of the project rather than renderings drawn to scale which accurately depict what rail will look like and we know that the City has rushed rail construction, prematurely awarding contracts for which it does not have federal funding.

As one HART member told a CB reporter: “Let’s see Ben put the genie back in the bottle” — an unwitting self-indictment of how little respect he has for the taxpayers.

The FTA staffer who wrote the email message accusing the City of “public manipulation” hit the nail on the head. The public has figured it out. The latest polls by the Star Advertiser and Civil Beat reveal a dramatic turn around in public opinion — 53% and 55%, respectively, now oppose rail.But this rail project was never about traffic congestion.

The formation of pro-rail groups such as Move Oahu Forward headed by Hawaiian Electric — which stands to make $24 million in providing electricity for rail each year — big land owners who envision increased property values and developers who dream of heavily government subsidized transit oriented developments — reveal rail is about profits and greed.

I have no problem with anyone trying to get rich — I have a problem if its done on the backs of the people.

Finally, those who have been demanding more specifics, who have no interest in reading or examining the $10 million 2003 FEIS — know the City has paid Parsons Brinkerhoff approximately $200 million to draw specific plans for the rail project.

But guess what? The City does not have specific drawings on how to build the downtown phase of the rail project, drawings from which construction costs can be accurately quantified. In other words, building this rail project is like trying to build a house with plans for only one half of the house — and without a guarantee of a mortgage to pay for it.

OK, Civil Beat, go ask the City for the specific plans — not the preliminary engineering plans — but the specific plans from which construction costs for the downtown phase can be accurately calculated.

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Photo: janineomg

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1 Comment to Read Ben Cayetano’s response to the Civil Beat article, “Bus Rapid Transit: The Devil’s in the Details, But What Are They?”

  1. Wendell H

    If the current dig for historical bones behind Nauru Tower is a sign of things to come, we’re in for major delays and redesigning when rail comes to Kakaako.

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