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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 3, 2008

Hawaii rail transit cost now at least $4.34B

By Sean Hao and Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writers


Among the new details in yesterday's rail report:

  • A route that passes through Salt Lake is affordable. However, an airport route or combined airport and Salt Lake route is unaffordable within the framework of the project's present financing.

  • Rail transit is projected to remove 34,000 cars from the roads each weekday.

  • Rail transit will save up to 16 million hours of travel time annually.

  • Rail transit poses no substantial effect to threatened, endangered or protected species.

  • Rail Transit will increase public transit ridership by 1 percentage point in 2030. Automobile usage would drop from 82 percent of trips to 80 percent.

    Source: Draft environmental impact statement for Honolulu's rail project, city news release.


    Voters can voice their opinion on the city's rail project tomorrow. The wording of the ballot issue is as follows:

    "Shall the powers, duties and functions of the city, through its director of transportation services, include establishment of a steel wheel on steel rail transit system?"


    For more rail coverage go to: www.honoluluadvertiser.com/rail

    For the complete draft EIS, see www.honolulutransit.org

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    The estimated cost of Honolulu's planned elevated rail line has climbed to at least $4.28 billion in today's dollars, according to the city's draft environmental impact statement released yesterday.

    That cost, which includes financing charges, is higher than the $3.9 billion included in an executive summary of the study released by the city Thursday.

    The higher, updated costs along with other new details about the project were included in a full study posted on the city's honolulutransit.org Web site yesterday morning.

    The 429-page report provides the most detailed, up-to-date look at the effects of the elevated train from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. However, the release just two days ahead of a referendum on rail means the public will have little time to digest the report's contents before tomorrow's vote.

    Among the key details released yesterday was that the cost of the planned 20-mile route through Salt Lake is projected to be $4.28 billion, or $5.28 billion, when adjusted for inflation. That's up from a 2006 estimate of $3.7 billion, or $4.98 billion when adjusted for inflation.

    The growth in the cost estimate over two years could cause concern among residents worried about whether the state can afford such a massive project during a period of economic uncertainty.

    Rail opponents criticized the city for not releasing the full study sooner. The federal government authorized the city to release the study on Wednesday. However, the city said it needed more time to ensure the study complied with state environmental laws.


    City Council member and mayoral candidate Ann Kobayashi said the information released yesterday comes too late for the nearly 40,000 O'ahu voters who cast early votes.

    "Whether you're for or against rail, you should be outraged that the city has been manipulating the information it has been giving out," said Kobayashi, who prefers rubber-tire transit technology. "We're talking about the largest public works project in our state. The EIS was released (by the federal government) on Wednesday; we all should have had it then."

    Mayor Mufi Hannemann issued a written statement defending the timing of the study's release. "We took tremendous efforts to make the DEIS available to the public prior to its formal distribution and before the general election," he said. "Allegations have been made that the city somehow delayed the release of the DEIS. Those allegations are absolutely false."

    The document's release fueled new criticisms from rail opponents who charged that city officials deliberately withheld the project's true costs when it stated last week in the study's executive summary that the Salt Lake route would cost $3.9 billion. At the time, the city did not disclose that the price excluded $356 million in finance costs. The cost estimate most often quoted prior to release of the new study, $3.7 billion, did include finance costs.

    Yesterday's study also did not disclose the cost of the entire 28-mile route, which includes stops at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, Waikiki and West O'ahu.

    A combined Salt Lake and Honolulu International Airport route is expected to cost $5.34 billion, or $6.48 billion when adjusted for inflation, the study said.


    At the Go Rail Go Bethel Street headquarters yesterday, the release of the entire document on the Internet was seen as proof that the system will only help commuters, Rep. Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), told volunteers headed out to canvass Mililani.

    "This document proves everything you have been saying door to door," said Justin Fanslau, prorail coalition campaign manager. "We've squished our opposition today. Everything we've told you is true. The fact remains traffic congestion will be reduced by 11 to 23 percent."

    The Go Rail Go group is part of the Support Rail Transit, a private nonprofit group that includes Vote Yes 4 Rail Now.

    Volunteer John Waldroupe, a member of the carpenters union, loaded up on door hangers and fliers to pass out yesterday. He was part of a team heading to Mililani to go door to door. He joined the effort because he expects building the rail line will be an economic boon for Hawai'i, Waldroupe said.

    "I've done this (hand out fliers) several times already," Waldroupe said. "People overall are pretty positive about rail. Mostly people realize we need something."

    On South Street, the Stop Rail Now organizers pored over the document looking for problems and expressing their dismay that it was released two days before tomorrow's general election.

    They were concerned about what was not included in the report. The study analyzed the impacts of an elevated rail via Salt Lake and the airport, but did not analyze alternatives such as bus rapid transit and elevated highway lanes. The city contends those alternatives were studied and dismissed during a prior study.

    "The only alternatives they're looking at are doing nothing, or building three different versions of rail," said Stop Rail Now co-founder Dennis Callan.

    Stop Rail Now wants the city to pursue alternatives such as elevated, managed highway lanes.

    Yesterday's study did not assess the effects of the full, 28-mile route of the train from West Kapolei to UH-Manoa and Waikiki. And the new study did not specify how much the city plans to spend acquiring the needed right of way on up to 212 properties that may need to be acquired in part or whole.

    The study also did not include the addresses of those locations.

    The study did point out that certain locations such as Boulevard Saimin, Aloun Farms and the Waiawa Banana Patch could be affected. The Banana Patch neighborhood would need to be moved to build a park-and-ride facility near the H-1/H-2 merge. That would mean displacing 10 homes and a church.


    Unlike the 2006 study, yesterday's new report did not disclose details about how much worse future traffic congestion will be even with rail. According to the study released yesterday, future traffic congestion without rail will be 43 percent worse than today.

    "What we don't know is what the traffic congestion is going to be with rail relative to today," said vocal rail critic Cliff Slater. "Traffic will be far worse with rail. And they're avoiding that totally."

    According to the study released yesterday, the planned Salt Lake route will cost $4.28 billion, including $821 million to cover contingencies. Despite the high costs, the project is still affordable using existing state transit tax surcharges and federal funding, according to the report. However, the city's new financial plan relies on more federal money to help pay the higher costs.

    The study said more federal money would be needed to fund an airport route instead of the planned Salt Lake route, which would cost $4.5 billion, or $5.43 billion, when adjusted for inflation.

    Building both the Salt Lake and the airport routes would cost $5.34 billion, or an inflation-adjusted $6.48 billion, and could not be done without more local and federal tax money, according to the study.

    Also included in yesterday's study was an updated timeline. It still forecast construction to start in late 2009, but anticipates the East Kapolei to Pearl Highlands segment will open in late 2013 or early 2014, about a year later than planned.

    The 20-mile route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana would open in late 2018.

    City officials hope to receive final approval of the environmental impact statement in the latter half of next year.

    That approval is needed before the city can get the bulk of the federal funding.

    Reach Sean Hao at shao@honoluluadvertiser.com and Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.