Verbatim: Elevated rail is all about politics and money, we can’t afford it

Letter to the Editor

The following statement is a follow-up to an ad, which ran today in the Star Advertiser, by, a citizen group opposed to elevated rail in Honolulu.

You can find our ad on page 6 in today’s paper. We make certain claims in the ad that the City will try to rebut. However, the following are the facts shown it italics under each of the claims we make:

CLAIM 1. ITS ABOUT POLITICS. Rail has nothing to do with traffic. It’s about money for land owners, developers, contractors, politicians and union leaders. It’s THEIR train!

We Verify: Check the campaign contributions to politicians at the Campaign Spending Commission website. In particular, check former Mayor Hannemann’s list for the 2008 and 2010 elections.

CLAIM 2. TRAFFIC CONGESTION WILL BE WORSE. The City admits in its Final EIS that, “Traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today.”

We Verify: The City wrote, “You are correct in pointing out that traffic congestion will be worse in the future with rail than what it is today without rail, and that is supported by data included in the Final EIS.” (Page 1252 of Appendix A, Final EIS)

CLAIM 3. IT’S LIKELY TO COST $7 BILLION, NOT $5.3 BILLION. The City says the rail project will cost $5.3 billion. It doesn’t tell you that a Federal study concluded there is a 50 percent CHANCE IT WILL COST $7 BILLION.

We Verify: See This paper is largely based on the FTA’s Project Management Oversight Contractor’s Report of July 2009 (see page 7-17 and related pages). In addition, the IMG Report, written by one of Washington DC’s leading consulting companies and commissioned by Governor Lingle, also found that construction and finance costs would probably total $7 billion. See page 16 of the IMG Report here.

CLAIM 4. WE CAN’T AFFORD IT. A $1.7 billion cost overrun, the $300 million taken from the federal bus funds, together with rail’s operating losses would cost the average household a $400 increase in property taxes every year FOREVER.

We Verify: Actually, we understated the cost. The 2010 Oahu property tax collections were $854 million. The 2006 average family of four property taxes paid were $1,650. The increase in City property tax collections 2006 to 2010 was 44 percent, which brings the average property tax paid to $2,368. Thus, a $400 increase would mean a 15 percent property tax increase. The $1.7 billion cost overrun ($7 billion less $5.3 billion), plus $300 million that has to be replaced from the General Fund, amortized over 35 years at 5.5 percent interest, is $130 million annually, which is 15.2 percent of 2010 tax collections. That covers the $400 annually and that’s before we get to the operating losses, which are difficult to calculate because rail ridership projections are notoriously overstated while operating expenses are usually understated. However, the projected bus/rail fare revenue in 2019 of $105 million and the expenses of $318 million resulting in losses of $213 million is certain to be exceeded.

CLAIM 5. IT WOULD BE AN EYESORE. Imagine 720 of these huge supporting pillars along the route with stations 75 feet high and as long as a football field. Consider how it would degrade the grace of our City, block views and destroy the beauty of Honolulu’s waterfront. Never mind the many years of construction chaos.

We Verify: Every one of Oahu’s environmental organizations is opposed to elevated heavy rail running through our city. For good reason, more elevated rail lines have been torn down in the United States than have been built in modern times.