Trouble in Paradise – Honolulu’s Troubled Mini-Metro Project


There has been much comment on Honolulu’s elevated rapid transit project and now, as expected (as with Seattle’s stillborn monorail project) financial problems are rearing their ugly heads. What I find astounding that the estimated cost of the elevated metro is now pegged at USD $5.3 billion and is to carry a paltry 100,000 daily passengers by 2030. Shades of  Seattle’s hybrid metro/light rail fiasco!

100,000 passengers a day is no problem for much cheaper light rail and with the benefit of LRT’s cheaper cost for future expansion, gives a more likelihood of new lines built. It seems the Honolulu metro lobby, like Vancouver’s SkyTrain/metro lobby, don’t care about higher taxes and transit fares to fund “Pixie Dust” transit planning, because the taxpayer always has deep pockets for politically prestigious light metro!

From the Transport Politic

Metro Project Still in Planning, Ambitious Honolulu Rail Transit Project May be in Financial Trouble

Tax revenues fall short in paying for 20-mile system, connecting downtown with Kapolei.

Yesterday, the Honolulu Advertiser revealed that in May the city had reviewed the costs of its planned transit system and realized that revenues over a 13-year period would be short $500 million compared to previous estimates. The news came as a bombshell for proponents of the rail line, who have worked hard in recent months to defend the credibility of the project. It gives additional ammunition to opponents who still hope to prevent the project’s construction, and were able to harp on the city’s secrecy as evidence of corruption. Honolulu’s experience, however, is little different from that in most other American cities today suffering from the consequences of the recession.

Honolulu’s rail transit line, which was approved by voters last November, will connect East Kapolei with the airport and downtown on a 20-mile elevated route that will take 40 minutes to traverse. Serving the majority of the city’s major job and residential centers, the line will attract almost 100,000 daily passengers by 2030 and cost $5.3 billion to build; it will fully open in 2019. Around 30% of the project’s costs are expected to be covered by the Federal Transit Administration through the New Starts program, with the rest being paid for by a local 1/2¢ sales tax that was introduced in January 2007.

It’s on the revenue from that tax that the city’s transit troubles lie………

And this from Wikipedia:


During a “State of the Rail” address on October 29, 2009, Mayor Hannemann told the audience that he is willing to delay the start of construction of the line from December 2009 to January 2010. In the speech he gave to invited guests in at The Mission Memorial Auditorium, Hannemann told the audience “I’m announcing today that I’m willing to push back our groundbreaking schedule for at least another month to allow the appropriate federal, state and community organizations to cross the t’s and dot the i’s.” Prior to making the speech, there was opening of a video of Hannemann riding a virtual representation of a train. “This is not a virtual dream folks,” Hannemann said. “This is our reality.” In the speech, Hannemann also said, “I have said the longer we delay, the more we’re going to pay. But I believe we must be prudent at this critical juncture because thorough preparation will contribute to our ultimate success.” The speech was taped and aired on three local television stations at a cost of $10,000.

As of January 2010, the timeline as to when — and if — the project will be built has started to run into more roadblocks. At issue is Governor Lingle’s plan to conduct a thorough review of the project before deciding if she will accept the environmental impact statement (which is key to the project going forward), and a holdup on a intergovernmental agreement on how to mitigate the rail project’s impact on historical sites. Another factor is when construction will actually start, which had already missed its December 2009 target and is likely to miss the January 2010 goal, with City officials looking towards February 2010 as a startup even though others are beginning to worry that this project might be delayed even further.

To make more matters even more complicated, The state of Hawaii is expected to hold public hearings on the environmental impacts of Honolulu’s planned rail project, which would give the public an opportunity to testify on whether the city’s plans to mitigate the environmental impacts of the project are adequate and likely to provide a platform for those opposed to the train as well as groups advocating alternatives such as street-level rail or elevated, managed highway lanes. The decision to hold public hearings could further delay the project, and even City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka is disappointed, saying that such hearings were unnecessary because the city held public hearings after it released the project’s draft environmental impact statement in 2009.

On January 8, 2010, Governor Lingle suggested that Honolulu should consider adjustments to its planned $5.3 billion elevated commuter rail line — including building a portion of it at street level — to save money and avoid putting more burden on taxpayers in a down economy, saying that “If a project like this fails financially, and 80 percent of the people are here on O’ahu, the state is going to be impacted, and the state is going to have to step in at that point to protect the credit rating of the state and of the city. Because otherwise it would be very difficult for anyone from Hawai’i to be selling bonds.” Lingle has also set up a public forum in which The Hawai’i chapter of the American Institute of Architects will provide a presentation on alternative rail plans on January 18, 2010 in the state Capitol auditorium. Lingle notes that giving the AIA a chance to offer their suggestions on building a rail line that would save $2 billion by building 10 of the 20 miles of the line at street level would save taxpayer dollars. This move has sparked criticism from Hannemann, who responded in a written statement, “It’s amazing that, in the absence of any state project that would create the thousands of jobs that the rail transit project will, that the governor of this state continues to throw up roadblocks, especially since she championed elevated rail during her first year in office.”  Unfortunately, there are several companies that will be involved with the project who do not support the AIA’s recommondations, saying that the elevated plan is way better and any changes would derail the project altogether.

There was also a attempt by Stop Rail Now to get a anti-rail ordinance measure on the ballot again after appealing a Circuit Court’s 2008 decision that prevented the nonprofit group from placing the ordinance on the November 2008 general election ballot, which would have added to more delays. But on December 30, 2009, The Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals sided with the Circuit Court, thus upholding the latter’s ruling and allowing the project to proceed………….

Elevated light metro in Honolulu


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4 Responses to “Trouble in Paradise – Honolulu’s Troubled Mini-Metro Project”

  1. nick uk Says:

    if you want people to use rail instead of cars you have to make it as accessible and convenient compared with the car as possible, and take you as close to your destination as possible, even if that takes a bit longer.

    The best way of taking people from where they live to where they need to go is by a tram or trolley where they just get on and off on the street.

    People arent moles they dont like being underground nor having to have to ascend in the air. Overground lines are ugly and like tunnels remove people from street level where they probably feel more secure.

    There is obviously a point where the number of passengers carried may indicate that a normal rail link is preferred but light rail is less expensive and better than a bus despite what some poloticians may think

    Zweisystem replies: Well said!

  2. mezzanine Says:

    There is more to the original article than you posted…

    “The Governor’s support of a light rail alternative over the elevated heavy rail line planned would result in a far less-used project that would do far less to affect the island’s commuting patterns.

    With the majority of its residents and workforce concentrated along its curved southern coast, Honolulu has an almost ideal population distribution for a major grade-separated transit line.

    It would be very difficult to either expand the road or add bus rapid transit lanes because of the built-up nature of the areas around the road. The rail line would follow that linear density.”

    Zweisystem replies: That’s why I added the link, for the complete story. The quote; “The Governor’s support of a light rail alternative over the elevated heavy rail line planned would result in a far less-used project that would do far less to affect the island’s commuting patterns.” is based on unfounded opinion by the author and indeed is not fact.

  3. mezzanine Says:

    Sorry, Zwei, it actually was my mistake – you are linking to an article from August 2009, and I am linking from an article from January 2010.

    “Vancouver’s heavy rail Canada Line, only 12 miles long and operating in a less dense area, is already attracting about 100,000 daily riders just a few months after opening. The fact that Honolulu’s population is heavily concentrated in single corridor that is expected to have 760,000 residents and 500,000 jobs by 2030 can’t hurt. ”

    Zweisystem replies: Mezzanine, TransLink invents ridership data. TransLink has all but admitted that their ridership numbers are all but invented and that there is a history of inflating ridership on the metro system by 20% to 30%! This is how they fell into the fare evasion/faregate trap in the first place. Until there is an independent audit of ridership, TransLink can claim what ever ridership numbers it wants.

    As well, The RAV/Canada Line’s ridership is about 90% former bus riders forced onto the metro.

  4. PRT Strategies Says:

    There are new and better ideas for elevated transit in Honolulu at

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