City's rail tax gives us competitive edge
By Nestor Garcia
After reading about recent remarks made by Stop Rail Now and former Gov. Ben Cayetano regarding the Honolulu transit project, it is unfortunate that transit opponents either don't or won't understand the federal funding process.
As the city has said when we started this journey in 2005, the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program is a competitively based funding program in which we compete with other cities for transit funding. The collection of the half-percent general excise tax surcharge is a factor that gives Honolulu a significant competitive advantage over other cities. It gives us a fighting chance, but more than that, I am confident it will lead to our acceptance into the New Starts funding program.
The Oct. 7 e-mail from an FTA official only says that nothing's been decided yet. While they have been in constant consultation with the city from the start of our alternative analysis planning process, it is too early to tell if any applicants, Honolulu and its competitors, will be accepted in the New Starts program. To use that innocuous e-mail statement as argument for people to reject transit is disingenuous and uncharacteristic of the spirit of our local people, who have the utmost faith in one another to overcome all obstacles.
What if the 2007 University of Hawai'i football team or our Little League teams from 'Ewa and Waipi'o had adopted this "no can" attitude because naysayers told them there's no guarantee they would win? We wouldn't have a Western Athletic Conference football championship, a Sugar Bowl appearance, and two Little League World Series titles in four years, that's for sure.
I'm curious as to why a renowned fighter like Cayetano would toss in the white towel so quickly. He is known for taking unpopular stances because he believed they were the right thing to do.
When I served in the state House of Representatives, then-Gov. Cayetano came to the Legislature with a request for $1 billion in capital improvements. This was needed, he argued, to help Hawai'i stave off the economic crisis triggered by the tragic events of 9/11.
After the Legislature pared his request down to $100 million, he told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Nov. 4, 2001), "I really feel there are too many of them that don't understand the gravity of the situation. I'm from the school that you prime the pump instead of watch an economic meltdown, and that is what is going to happen."
Ironically, Honolulu's elevated, fixed guideway project that he speaks against would accomplish exactly what he argued so strongly for back then. It will:
If government spending to lessen the impact of a financial crisis was a good idea back then, why isn't it a good idea now?
I'm also amazed at my colleague's "EzWay" BRT plan. From 2003 until 2007, Ann Kobayashi was a member of the City Council's transportation committee as well as the O'ahu Metropolitan Planning Organization's policy committee. When the council implemented the half-percent GET surcharge in August 2005 and the OMPO policy committee adopted the O'ahu Regional Transportation Plan 2030 Update in April 2006, on both occasions Councilmember Kobayashi voted in support.
Had her advisers kept up to date on this issue, they would have known that the state Department of Transportation's presentation at the Aug. 20 OMPO Citizen's Advisory Committee meeting stated that the cost of building a 15-mile, two-lane flyover "is closer to $2 billion to $4 billion, rather than the often quoted $900 million," based on the department's own construction cost estimate of $225 million per mile.
The proposed "EzWay" plan goes against her prior votes and is outside the approved funding schedule for the Federal Highway and Federal Transit Administrations as depicted in the 2030 Update. It also does not meet the requirement for being considered "fixed guideway" as single-occupant vehicles do not meet the strict requirements for Transit funding, nor does the plan meet the state and county approved language for acceptable use of the collected GET funds.
Nestor Garcia is floor leader of the Honolulu City Council and chairman of the Committee on Transportation & Public Works. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.