Editor’s Note: The Cayetano campaign sent us corrected budget numbers on Wednesday morning after this story was published. This version reflects the new figures, which brings the total for the proposal to $1.5 billion, not $1.8 billion as previously reported. That’s still an increase from the $1.1 billion released earlier.

Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano’s alternative to elevated rail has a $1.5 billion budget, which is $400 million more than the cost estimate he revealed last week.

The former governor’s advisers say the new figure is supposed to be a more accurate comparison to the $5.26 billion rail budget because it includes money for contingency funds as well as the cost of financing.

It also assumes significant contributions from state and federal government as well as from the general excise tax collections that have been paying for rail.

Cayetano is expected to release a full budget for his transportation plan later this week, which will be the first time anyone outside of his inner circle will get a detailed glimpse into the numbers that support his transit alternative.

On Tuesday, Civil Beat received a brief preview of the budget from Cayetano’s transportation guru, Panos Prevedouros, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Hawaii.

Presenting an Alternative

Prevedouros ran for Honolulu mayor in 2008 and 2010 on an anti-rail platform, calling it an ineffective and costly way to reduce traffic congestion. He lost both times, capturing between 17 and 18 percent of the vote in each race.

Much of Cayetano’s plan — dubbed FAST for “Flexible Affordable Smart Transportation” — was developed with the help of Prevedouros, who has shared many of his views on infrastructure in his blog, Fix Oahu!

The projects Cayetano would like to pursue if he beats out Kirk Caldwell in the Nov. 6 election include bus rapid transit, adding more traffic and contraflow lanes, creating short underpasses, fine-tuning stoplights to increase the frequency of green lights and building a new 2.2-mile viaduct over the Nimitz Highway.

Prevedouros said the Nimitz Highway “flyover” is the most expensive component, estimated at roughly $600 million.

And when comparing Cayetano’s entire FAST plan to the rail project, he said there’s more value in reducing congestion per dollar spent because much of the infrastructure is already in place.

“I don’t need to invest $6 billion on something new,” Prevedouros said. “I (already) have it. Fix it. Manage it. And regulate it in a way that is environmentally conscious.”

In fact, Prevedouros doesn’t see any reason for Honolulu to ever have a rail system, which is a place where he and the former governor disagree since Cayetano has not necessarily ruled out one should he get approached with the proper plan.

“A city our size does not need rail at all,” Prevedouros said. “It’s really something that somebody put the seed there and that seed doesn’t want to go away, just like a little cancer really.”

Honolulu has been fighting over whether to build a rail system for decades. The current iteration is the farthest along it has ever gotten.

Although a recent Hawaii Supreme Court ruling halted construction, columns for the elevated system have already been built and the federal government is still considering giving the city $1.55 billion for the project.

Where’s the Dough?

Prevedouros provided some insight into where the money for Cayetano’s plan would come from, but refused to give any details until the full budget is officially released.

UPDATE Of the $1.5 billion, the city and county of Honolulu would be responsible for $700 million under the Cayetano budget. The budget also assumes the state would provide $200 million, and the federal government would pitch in $300 million.

This does not include the $70 million that’s assumed to cover the cost of financing or $230 million that would be set aside as a contingency to cover cost overruns and change orders.

Prevedouros said the budget shows the city, state and feds splitting the cost of the $600 million Nimitz Highway flyover at roughly $200 million apiece. Under this plan, the feds would also help pay for lesser expenses, such as upgrades to the traffic signaling system and extra buses.

Much of this plan relies heavily on Cayetano’s political clout, and his ability to sell state and city officials on his rail alternative.

The idea is that the city’s $700 million share would mainly be paid for with the general excise tax surcharge that was approved in 2005 by both the Legislature and Honolulu City Council.

That surcharge is currently funding the rail project. As of the end of July the city has collected more than $900 million. And while a July report from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation shows that $445 million had already been spent or dedicated through June 29, the agency has entered into $3.1 billion worth of contracts.

But the state law that created the surcharge might not allow the money to be used on Cayetano’s transportation alternative. The law says that the tax “shall not be used to build or repair public roads or highways, bicycle paths, or support public transportation systems already in existence.”

It’s unclear how lawmakers will interpret this when looking at Cayetano’s FAST plan, but it presents at least one hurdle for the former governor. Cayetano could also have his hands full trying to pry money out of the state and federal government for the other components of his plan.

This doesn’t even include the probable legal battles that will ensue once he attempts to cancel contracts on the rail project.

Nothing But a ‘Band-Aid’

Cayetano is scheduled to spar with Caldwell Wednesday night in the first televised debate since the Aug. 11 primary, and it’s expected he will reveal more details about his FAST proposal.

Caldwell, who is a pro-rail, has already called Cayetano’s plan nothing more than a “band-aid” that will do little to ease congestion.

In a statement issued after Cayetano released his proposal to the public, Caldwell criticized the BRT-reliant plan for not having the “capacity, reliability and safety of an elevated rail system.”

He also went after Cayetano for holding out on the details until now.

“Ben Cayetano has had months to present a BRT plan in detail to the public. I asked for it in May,” Caldwell said. “Coming forward only weeks before the election, with little time for experts and the public to give it the thoughtful and thorough review it requires is disingenuous at best. The people of Honolulu deserve better.”

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author

Comments