Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Rail enemy doesn't know what he's saying

By Bill Brennan


What makes Cliff Slater an expert on transportation? His long-winded and long-standing opposition to rail? His constituency of naysayers, many of whom, like Dave Rolf of the Hawaii Automobile Dealers Association or Dale Evans of Charley's Taxi, have interests clearly vested in continuing O'ahu's dependence on automobiles?

With his lack of accountability to all but a few like-minded people, it is Slater who is the agent of spin and obfuscation in the current rail debate.

He calls the 1992 proposal a heavy rail project. Typical Slater fudging. It was light rail by any industry standard. Ask the real experts. Check the newspaper clippings.

That's only the beginning. Slater misrepresents just about everything Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Transportation Services Director Ed Hirata and other supporters of transit have said, from the timing of federal requirements to tax calculations, highway capacity and a rail system's potential to ease traffic congestion.

The governor, the mayor and other pro-transit elected officials have gone on record stating the advantage of funding construction with an excise tax is that visitors would pay a larger share of that than gasoline or property taxes. Slater ignores the point. Who's being dishonest here?

Now Slater is spinning highway construction cost figures to try to justify his proposal that a High Occupancy Tollway viaduct is the answer to Oahu's transportation future. Slater claims that would cost less than $1 billion to build.

The elevated two-lane HOT viaduct along Kamehameha Highway as proposed by Slater would have to be a 44-foot-wide structure (two 12-foot-wide travel lanes with 10-foot wide shoulders on each side) in order to meet federal standards for the speeds he touts.

He claims a two-lane highway viaduct can be built for $100 million per mile or less.

Using the same cost assumptions, a fixed-rail guideway could be built for half that, since a two-track system could be built only 23 feet wide. That's because a railway would need no shoulders or wide travel lanes. So, based on engineer Slater's unit costs, a rail guideway should cost only $52 million per mile. And it would be less obtrusive by almost half than Slater's HOT lane.

Slater conjures up visions of a HOT lane viaduct running 10 miles from Waikele to Iwilei. However, the road distance using the route he's proposing is actually 14 miles.

Moreover, let's use Slater's logic on a rail system: The straight-line distance between Kapolei and Manoa is 16 miles. Applying Slater's logic, we could say a rail guideway between Kapolei and Manoa would cost only $836 million. But we won't because we know that Slater is using unrealistic figures.

At this point, we don't have all the answers and we're not pretending we do. Some of those will come with the Alternatives Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Statement that would follow enactment of Bill 40.

We do note that dozens of American cities have installed or expanded rail transit systems since 1992, and very few have built HOT lanes. (And they're charging up to $8 per trip for every vehicle that wants to use the HOT lane.)

The mayor has said all along that if you don't like what he's proposing, come up with something better. Slater's HOT lane isn't it. All that would do is add traffic elsewhere while perhaps moving it more quickly through Pearl City and the airport area. And the HOT lane would only be used by those who can afford to pay up to $16 a day for the luxury of using it.

Traffic is the chief problem affecting quality of life on O'ahu. We are going to need something beyond more cars and roads to meet our transportation needs of the future.

The mayor has the vision to recognize that and the courage to pursue it. What we need now is the will to see it through this time.

Bill Brennan is Mayor Mufi Hannemann's press secretary and a former reporter. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.