Tag Archives: HART Chair Colleen Hanbusa

Honolulu Rail Woes: YESTERDAY & TODAY – PART 1

by Walter Heen, Ben Cayetano, Cliff Slater & Randall Roth

“The City has paid more than $2 million in taxpayer money to ten different public relations firms to promote its heavy rail project. Here’s what they have not yet told you:

Aircraft Carriers in the Sky

The local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) prepared renderings like this one to help the public picture an elevated heavy rail system on the island of Oahu. The 20-mile railway would be at least three stories tall, held aloft by 720 large concrete columns. Some of the stations would be more than six stories high.

Rail Chnatown-Stn-Elevated-Final2

One AIA member described the stations as “aircraft carriers in the sky.”

A group like the AIA normally has a vested interest in supporting major construction projects. We admire its courage in providing a contrast to the City’s deceptive renderings.

Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Conflict of Interest and Troubled History

The mayor, council members, and HART board all lack expertise and experience with rail systems, so they must rely on others. Critical information about the proposed rail project can be traced to one of three sources: Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has already received more than $100 million in contracts from the City and stands to receive another $300-$400 million if the project is built; InfraConsult, a firm formed by three former Parsons Brinckerhoff employees, which the City hired to provide oversight on Parsons Brinckerhoff ‘s work; and Wayne Yoshioka, who was recruited by Mayor Hannemann from Parsons Brinckerhoff to head up the City’s Department of Transit Services, and whose wife continues to work at Parsons Brinckerhoff.


There is also a highly critical audit of Parson Brinckerhoff’s work in California as program manager of that state’s high-speed rail project. The audit complains of “inadequate planning, weak oversight, and lax contract management.”

Parsons Brinckerhoff worked on the Tren Urbano rail project in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was projected to cost $1 billion and enjoy high ridership. Instead, it sustained a 113% cost overrun and had actual ridership only 27% of the original forecast for 2010. A new 5.5% tax was enacted partly because of unforeseen rail costs.

Stacking the Deck in Favor of Rail

When Jeremy Harris was mayor, Parsons Brinckerhoff said Bus/Rapid Transit (BRT) could accomplish virtually all of the objectives of rail at substantially less cost. A few years later when Mufi Hannemann was mayor, Parsons Brinckerhoff excluded BRT from the alternatives analysis despite a federal requirement that the City objectively evaluate “all reasonable alternatives.”

Not a Solution to Traffic Congestion

Mayor Mufi Hannemann repeatedly portrayed rail as a solution to Oahu’s existing traffic congestion problem. Mayor Peter Carlisle has echoed that message. Yet Wayne Yoshioka, the head of the city’s transit department, now acknowledges that “traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail.”

Yoshioka’s admission is not some off-hand comment. It was written, reviewed, and included in the environmental impact study (EIS) that was approved by the Federal Transportation Administration.

Damage the Environment and Historical Sights Forever

The City’s portrayal of heavy rail as friendly to the environment would be laughable if the subject were not so serious. Construction of the proposed system would lead to the large-scale development of prime farmland and change forever the Hawaiian sense of place. Imagine the sound of each 72,000 pound, steel-on-steel elevated rail car as it accelerates from 0 to 60 and then decelerates to 0 between each of 21 stations, every 3 minutes in each direction.

The elevated railway would permanently diminish the mauka/makai views along the entire route, and the ambiance of Honolulu’s waterfront would be particularly affected.

The City claims that rail would save energy. However, U.S. Dept. of Energy data shows that, except in heavily populated urban centers, rail requires more energy per rider than do automobiles. The smallest urban center with heavy rail is four times larger than Honolulu.

No wonder virtually every environmental group in Hawaii opposes heavy rail despite the City’s false claims that it would be a “green” project.

Unrealistic Cost Estimate

The City claims that elevated heavy rail would cost no more than $5.3 billion, but the facts indicate otherwise. Cost overruns on rail systems elsewhere have averaged 40%, and an independent study by the highly regarded IMG group predicted total costs for heavy rail in Honolulu of at least $7 billion. The Federal Transit Administration’s probabilities study concluded that the probability of spending $7 billion was far greater than the probability of coming in on budget.

Unrealistic Ridership Forecast

The federal government has compared actual ridership with forecasts in the cities that actually built rail systems and found that these cities overestimated ridership by an average of 41%.

When the City prepared environmental impact studies in 1982, 1992, and 2003, it forecast significant increases in bus ridership each time, but ridership declined instead. Yet the City is once again touting wildly optimistic forecasts for rail ridership. These ignore that the most recent population forecast for Honolulu shows that the number of people 20 to 64 years old in the year 2030 is expected to be less than the number today. This age group includes the vast majority of commuters.

The City has also cherry picked data. It relies upon a 2004 30-year population forecast even though the 2008 30-year population forecast indicates 100,000 fewer people in 2030 than was previously forecasted.

Even with such cherry picking and wildly optimistic forecasting, however, the City reluctantly acknowledges that if rail were to be built, another $100 million would need to be “found” each year, just to keep the trains running. The obvious sources are substantially higher fares for riders and substantially higher taxes for everyone.

Segmented Analysis Based on False Statement

Federal statutes require that a new transportation system protect historic landmarks, environmental and cultural resources, and native burial sites from unnecessary degradation. H-3 is a perfect example of what can happen when archeological and environmental studies are done in segments rather than completely (i.e., it took 20 years and the final cost was more than ten times the original estimates). The project manager for H-3, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is also the project manager for the current rail project.

The City is now making a similar mistake, by trying to start construction before identifying the sensitive sites in segment four, which includes Kakaako and Downtown Honolulu where the bulk of problems are likely to be found. Environmental policy frowns on such “segmented studies” because by the time problems in later segments are detected, alternative routes and technologies are greatly limited (i.e., once a line has been started the City cannot simply zigzag around problem areas).

The City was given permission to delay the bulk of its archeological analysis because DLNR Director William Aila approved such a segmented approach. Aila said he did so because the Federal Transit Administration “required” it. We don’t know if he was misled by others or just mistaken, but his statement is patently false.

Exaggerated Job Creation

The City initially claimed that rail would create 17,000 new jobs during the construction phase, but later lowered its estimate to 10,166, without explanation. Even this number is pure fiction.

The $483 million construction contract went to Kiewit. Its officials say they need 350 workers to build the first segment. The same workers would probably end up building the remaining segments, because the plan is to build the system in segments, not all at once.

An Italian company, Ansaldo, expects to receive more than $1 billion for providing and maintaining the trains and rail system. It is promising “300 local jobs for local people.”

If you are counting, we have identified 650 new jobs. The City has yet to identify the other 9,516 that it has promised.

Worse Conditions for Commuters

The City has led people to think they could drive their cars to nearby rail stations and then ride a train into town. But the City is planning to provide parking at only 4 of the 21 stations. Where will commuters park their cars? The airport charges $15 per day.

The City has also said little about its plan to force existing bus riders to take the train by replacing express and direct-route buses with ones that ”feed” the train. Most bus riders currently can find a seat on a bus in and out of town. Most train commuters would have to stand the entire way.

Walter Heen served as a state judge, federal judge, city councilman, legislator, chairman of the state Democratic Party, and OHA trustee; Benjamin Cayetano served as a legislator, lieutenant governor, and governor; Cliff Slater is a businessman who founded Maui Divers; Randall Roth is a professor at the William S. Richardson School of Law. They are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the process by which the City chose elevated heavy rail over alternatives that would reduce traffic congestion and protect the environment.


                      TODAY – May 2016

Are the four  citizen authors – Walter Heen, Benjamin Cayetano, Cliff Slater, and Randall Roth – and thousands of concerned citizens vindicated ( shown or proven to be right, reasonable, or justified) now? How do we work together to do damage control of this runaway project but still mitigate traffic problems for many on this island?

Caldwell 5:13:16

May 13, 2016  Honolulu Star Advertiser

Caldwell 5:15:16

May 15, 2016 Honolulu Star Advertiser

Lahood Colleen

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa’s assurances for the Honolulu Rail Project  on September 2011 – The Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Project Newsletter – HONOLULU ON THE MOVE: “Secretary LaHood has made it very clear that they are very committed.”


May 13, 2016 Star Advertiser: Newly-appointed HART Board Chair Colleen Hanabusa: “ I will tell you, I don’t know what the options are, but we’re going to have to figure out what to do.” ( Don Horner, HART Board Chair, thrown under the bus by Mayor Kirk Caldwell due to political pressure, resigned on April 11, 2016.)

What do you think the current Mayor Kirk Caldwell, former Managing Director for Mayor Mufi Hannemann, is going to do?

Caldwell donations




Choon James is Host to Country Talk Story which airs on every Sunday at 4:00 pm on Community Television Channel 54. She can be contacted at ChoonJamesHawaii@gmail.com  808 293 9111  http://www.CountryTalkStory.com