Posted by: loomisisc | January 22, 2010

Despite AIA Efforts to Tarnish Plans, Honolulu Rail Project is ‘Golden’

William Millar

Today, a City & County press release reported that National transportation leader William Millar said Honolulu’s elevated rail transit system is an ideal fit for the island’s narrow transportation corridor between Kapolei and Honolulu. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), remarked that a grade-separated right of way such as Honolulu’s planned elevated system is the “gold standard” for transit.

“It is the safest for pedestrians and cars, can reach high speeds because it travels above traffic congestion and signalized intersections, and can deliver the frequent service that creates large ridership,” Millar said at a city press conference.

Millar remarked that transit construction can create a significant number of jobs directly in the construction industry and indirectly through construction suppliers. “The national trend shows that construction costs have decreased because of the recession, enabling transit programs to simultaneously save money on building costs while creating local employment.”

In addition, the City & County of Honolulu at today’s press briefing also refuted many of the claims made by leaders of the American Institute of Architects-Honolulu Chapter (AIA-Honolulu) in the group’s proposal for a mixed at-grade/elevated rail system. For example, the AIA panel on Monday claimed that the changes in the planning process would cause only a six-month delay.

Kirk Caldwell

“This claim or estimated time of delay by AIA is false,” said city managing director Kirk Caldwell. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) informed the city that if any decision is made to change the rail system from elevated to at-grade, the FTA would have to start the environmental review process again.

“This rail project has gone through five years of extensive planning and environmental review,” Caldwell said. “As the FTA stated, making changes to the project now would put it back to square one. We believe this would halt the project indefinitely.”

Caldwell stressed that the U.S. Department of Transportation and FTA, and Hawaii’s congressional delegation support the continuation of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project and they expect further refinements as it proceeds forward.  “This elevated project is in line for federal funding because it meets all of the technical and regulatory requirements,” he said. “The proposal by the AIA does not, and would actually be at least several years away from happening even if it were determined to be eligible for funding. This AIA proposal is an unrealistic option.”

The city responded to other issues raised by AIA at Monday’s presentation:

At-grade trains are not more efficient than elevated trains.
o      Like all drivers, at-grade trains would have to yield to intersecting traffic in downtown, slowing down the train service.
Oahu does not have wide streets like other cities to effectively operate trains at-grade or on the ground level.
o      Unless private property is acquired along the rail route, traffic lanes would have to be taken away for the rail line.
Operating costs for elevated rail will be lower because the train cars will be automated.
o      An at-grade system would require driver-operated trains, since the trains would need to stop for other traffic. This will actually create higher operating costs for an at-grade system, since labor makes up 60-70 percent of operating costs.

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