Rail: Expensive & Ugly!

The city revealed its plans for the proposed rail transit system. Critics are already calling it “ugly” and “expensive.” From today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

“There’s no hiding of a concrete structure in the middle of the road,” said Toru Hamayasu, the city’s chief transportation planner.

“Why does it have to be so ugly?” asked Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who represents Moiliili and Manoa and was shown a computer simulation of a 60-foot-tall rail transit structure that is being proposed to run along University Avenue to the university.

“That’s one of the last photos they showed me before they ran out of my office,” Kobayashi chuckled. “I was just shocked when I saw it.”

Yes, more concrete in the middle of your neighborhood. The computer renderings revealed in today’s paper are mostly seen from afar. Up close I have to assume the structures will loom even larger. One thing they forgot to include: The potential of taggers getting to this structure and making your neighborhood even more ugly by spraying and painting graffiti on them. It is bound to happen.

Oh yes, let’s not forget the more elevated structures you build, the more free and ugly homeless shelters you have. A great potential for the homeless to set up shop underneath these behemoth structures…. Oh yes, and let us not forget the drug problems that go along with some of the homeless people.

Last year State Senator Les Ihara spoke about the rail line tax proposal (he ended up voting for it I believe) stating that an elevated rail line will divide neighborhoods and communities. You will literally end up with neighbors who live “on the other side of the tracks.”

What is the most appalling aspect of this proposal is the cost to build it, now estimated to be around $3 billion! I won’t hold them to that because in the end the cost of this thing will certainly rise to at least $6 billion. No one is mentioning how much it will cost to maintain or whether additional taxes will be needed.

Preliminary estimates show that construction of the proposed 23-mile rail transit line between Kapolei and the University of Hawaii at Manoa will cost more than $3 billion, and initial ridership figures show that such a system could attract 120,000 to 150,000 riders per day. But the city warns that those numbers could change as more precise numbers are crunched and such things as environmental, economical, social and other cost impacts are factored in.

You rail supporters really want our tax dollars wasted on these elevated concrete structures?

I wonder where the city is getting their ride estimate figures.

Strangely no one has mentioned the possibility of people’s property being taken away through eminent domain in order to make way for the expensive train. Folks, it’s coming and it will suck you out of house, home and business.

There will be a series of public meetings on the following days and times for this:

  • Tomorrow, 8:30-10 a.m., at Kapolei Hale.
  • Monday, 5:30-7 p.m., Mission Memorial Auditorium (near Honolulu Hale).
  • Wednesday, 6-7:30 p.m., Aliamanu Middle School cafeteria.
  • Links to more information

    Graphic above: as posted to Honolulu Star-Bulletin website, University Ave. near King St.

    10 Comments so far

    1. Joshua (unregistered) on June 24th, 2006 @ 11:24 am

      My comment is, how many people in Oahu have tried using a rail that’s properly designed? If a rail is designed at the right stops combined with the right frequency of service, it is actually a really great way to get around. The fact is, traffic congestion for Oahu is only going to get worse. Building more roads will only be a short term answer as more roads encourage more car ownership and once again, we’re back to square one with the problem. Dedicated buses? That only works if you got them on dedicated roads since dedicated buses on existing roads are still at the mercy of unpredictable traffic patterns (i.e. road accidents). But if we build dedicated roads for dedicated buses, won’t we potentially need concrete elevated structures? If that’s the case,it’s the same situation with rail. Those renderings are poorly done in my opinion. Concrete structures can be artistic if landscaped properly. As for homeless or taggers, well any structure that goes up can be a target for them. If we are so afraid of that problem, we might as well not even build homes or offices because they can be targets too. The price tag’s only going to get more expensive the longer we just debate.

    2. pen0r (unregistered) on June 24th, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

      Ann Kobayashi is an idiot. How else is it supposed to look like?????? Your post is as stupid.

    3. macpro (unregistered) on June 25th, 2006 @ 7:08 am

      How many supporters of rail are actually using The Bus right now? How many supporters of rail will actually give up their cars and use mass transit on a regular basis? I sure won’t. Don’t be fooled by the mayor and supporters of this multi-billion dollar boondoggle. They want to build this but they don’t want to ride it. They expect YOU to ride it so that the freeways are clearer for them to use. The taxpayers will not be able to afford this.


    4. Joshua (unregistered) on June 26th, 2006 @ 9:43 am

      To the person who said the post is stupid, can you expand on that one liner? Who’s post is stupid? The original blogger or my response, and why is it stupid?

      As for how many supporters of rail are actually using The Bus, that’s comparing apples to oranges. I’ve used The Bus in the past, it’s not a bad service but you have to factor in a lot of unknowns to make it work, traffic and the driver’s habits (ie does he/she drive slow/fast and does he/she take their time at the stops). I’ve also used rail in many different cities since I’ve been lucky enough to work in different cities. Again, when a rail is properly designed, the ride is fast and smooth, and it’s almost clockwork on when it arrives at a station and for how long at the station. The truth is, no one will know for sure how may car users will switch over to rail because there isn’t a rail for them to try. I see a lot of opposition because of cost but has anyway ever considered how much our current roads and freeways cost? If we didn’t have our existing roads and freeways and we said, let’s build one, I bet the price tag would be the same. The only reason rail looks expensive is because we haven’t put in place the infrastructure. Besides, who said it has to be completely footed by the taxpayer? Why not some creative financing? Private sectors can be invited to chip in. Some successful rails have used private sectors to help foot significant portions of the tab, provided these private investors got the rights to develop around the stations. And I’ve yet to see a rebuttal to my question, if not rail, what do you propose to alleviate the current traffic problems which will only get worse? Oahu is an island, we only have a finite amount of land compared to every other US city in the other 49 states. So the mayor doesn’t want to ride the rail, big deal, it doesn’t mean the average joe still can’t own a car and still can’t choose to drive when he decides to. Gas prices will not come down, people who believe it will go back to the prices of several years back are in denial. And your other blog already mentioned that a certain tax rebate will end shortly and expect to see gas prices go up some more only confirms that. So if the rail is done right and pricewise is competitive, I am pretty sure it will win converts. Again, how many people on Oahu have experienced riding an efficient rail?

    5. Brian (unregistered) on July 7th, 2006 @ 6:16 pm

      I agree with everything Joshua stated in the above posting!! I for one would happily take the rail to work and back vs. driving my car. The main point is to have a reliable, fast system with the right stations.

    6. macpro (unregistered) on July 8th, 2006 @ 6:40 am

      You folks ought to read the following article:

      City Fixed on Rail

      The article brings up a couple of important facts being ignored by rabid rail supporters like you:

      “Oahu’s proposed rail system appears to have too large a price tag for the low ridership projected at 120,000 – 150,000 in 2030. For a system that will cost $3 billion (conservative estimate), divided by Honolulu’s metropolitan population of 980,000, the cost per capita would be $3,061.

      This is a very high cost as compared to other jurisdictions. The cost of Salt Lake City’s light rail system is $282 per capita, Sacramento’s is $171 per capita, and Portland’s is $725 per capita. Even more troubling is the very real possibility that despite the 1/2% general excise tax surcharge proposed by Bill 40, the City may end up owing far more than rail transit’s original cost because of operating losses and interest costs.

      The popularity of mass transit is not high and most people prefer to use their private vehicles when commuting. Spending so much on an unpopular choice seems like a waste of valuable resources, especially when the city’s consultants acknowledge that the rail will do little to reduce traffic congestion. We need to find a solution which is attractive to its potential ridership, is cost effective, and will help ease congestion.”

    7. Joshua (unregistered) on July 8th, 2006 @ 1:20 pm

      If you deem me as a rabid rail supporter, that’s fine. I’m merely supporting what I think is the most viable long term solution to the ever growing traffic problems. If you can convince me of a much better alternative that will work, I’ll switch sides in a heartbeat. =)

      I see the numbers posted but here are my questions. What were the final price tags upon completion of the first phase of these respective light rail systems? I say first phase because all of these systems have had subsequent extentions built. And are these numbers in 2006 dollars? The rail system in Utah was first completed in 1999, Portland’s in 1986, and Sacramento’s in 1987. If inflation adjusted, I wonder what these numbers will be if they were not using 2006 dollars? I remember being able to buy a fully loaded Honda Accord for around $13k in 1986, that sure looks cheap today but you and I know it’s no where near that amount in today’s dollars.

      I like to point out a fatal flaw with these three systems. They all have rail running on surface streets that crosses automobile traffic. Infact, Portland’s system is limited to two cars per train, because any more would make it so long it would block auto traffic when it stops at a station. I don’t believe the city is proposing to build a rail system that mixes with auto traffic and surface streets and neither am I supporting any system of that nature. I’ve even written to the mayor that if he is considering anything like that, he should forget it because systems like that get stuck in traffic and defeats the purpose of a rail system. This is probably also a factor in why the proposed system for Honolulu is much more expensive, it’s obvious that if you want to build a rail that completely avoids crossing any auto traffic, it will be more expensive.

      However, just because I’m in favor of a rail system doesn’t mean I’m for building one at no matter what cost. I like to see the studies keep going so they can refine the estimated costs. Right now, I don’t even know what is used to estimate this 3 billion dollar figure, have we solicited bids from construction firms yet? Like any public project, I’m all for implementing tranparency, no backroom deals, fines for cost overruns, etc. When the 10 freeway was rebuilt in LA after the 94 quake, it was finished ahead of schedule because for everyday ahead of schedule, there was a bonus to the construction firm but for everyday late, there was a hefty fine the firm owed the city.

      Again, I’m all ears for other viable solutions but I just don’t see a Bus Rapid System as being very viable as a long term solution. Ottawa tried it and they are now converting to a light rail system. The elevated bus roadways they constructed costed them almost as much as a rail system. Besides, didn’t we try a BRT under Harris’s term?

      I go back to a very crucial fact that all these consultants and anti-rail folk seem to ignore. The rail systems they all quote as failures are built in US cities that are very decentralized and can build for miles and miles out with ample lands. Honolulu is not like that. If anything, we need to start comparing our city to Asian or European cities that have no further land for growth. When you compare Honolulu to most US mainland cities, Honolulu is a very compact city.

    8. Will (unregistered) on July 12th, 2006 @ 3:36 am

      I live in San Francisco now where rail commute is a part of my day. When I first came over, the thought of not being able to drive my car to work was too much to bear, however, since doing so it’s been one of the greatest things in the world. Not having to drive tired and look for parking.

      However, it sucks for Hawaii because the roads are just not meant to have a rail transit ride flat on the road. It’s gotta be elevated to weave through the dense neighborhoods. They have rail transit (MUNI street cars) here ontop of the road which requires widening the roads and changing the road signs to adhere to the transit stop, etc. I really doubt they would do that in Hawaii because I see the process of widening the roads to take like 10 years, with the speed Hawaii’s construction moves at. Plus, it’s a hard task.

      Yeah, I agree w/ Joshua. Years down the road, there’s just going to be too much cars and only so much island. Time to step up and make the change.

    9. Will (unregistered) on July 12th, 2006 @ 3:46 am

      I remember visiting Portland before. It seemed like a really small city to me. At least, it’s Downtown appeared small. Sacramento is very roomy, the roads are probably large.

      I don’t have facts, but I would presume that those cities were raised from the ground with the mindset that transit would be a part of the city’s daily life. Therefore the costs of creating the rail transit system in those cities significantly decreases.

      You got Hawaii where the idea of transit probably never crossed the minds of the people of Hawaii. That ends up requiring more adjustments, requiring more cash put down on the table.

    10. Kijimuna (unregistered) on July 15th, 2006 @ 10:55 am

      I seem to hear this argument everywhere I go, and I tell people the same thing every single time. I come from an even smaller island, where cars are cheap and traffic was crazy. Then, someone suggested we build a monorail system from the edge of the main city, and have it run through to the end (the airport)…20 years ago. People argued just like Hawaii residents are doing now. Then, about 4 years ago, the monorail was complete. Hmm, all of the sudden people were saying, “what took so long?” Yeah, jump on the bandwagon why don’t ya. It cost a lot of money, and it’ll take a long time to clear the costs but so far it’s turned out to be the best thing to happen to the island.

      Tagging? Shouldn’t be a problem if the planners bother to put some thought into the design of the rail. Where I come from, the supporting “pillars” have been designed so it can be used as “green” decor. Basically they’re now used to support green vines – and the particular plants that were chosen are supposed to be hardy, and help absorb the noise and pollution, etc.

      I’m sure if enough planning went into this thing, money wouldn’t be too big of a problem. Stations have advertising walls, and the trains themselves have something similar to the ads you see in TheBus right now, but on a smaller scale.

      Everyone I know that goes back to the island to visit has to try out that monorail. My friend just got back and she loved it, and I myself found it much easier than riding the bus.

      I just think if an even smaller place can make it work, why not here? But hey, this debate could go on forever…and that’s what Hawaii seems to be really good at…talking without much action.

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