This is part of a series of stories examining the decision to build a rail transit line in Honolulu.

Cliff Slater’s claim: The city has a $2.6 billion estimate for managed lanes construction costs. That’s twice as much per lane mile as the H-3 freeway.

The Alternatives Analysis projects the construction cost of a reversible Managed Lane project at $2.6 billion in 2006 dollars. That compares with the $3.6 billion cost (at that time)of Rail Transit.

Slater contends the state doesn’t have a credible argument for the Managed Lane estimate. Slater previously has said the city is using a 16-mile long route for the Managed Lane facility instead of the shorter versions that would provide lower estimates.

The city estimate is slightly lower than what it cost the state to build the H-3 freeway, a 16.1-mile divided highway that has twin two-lane trans-Koolau tunnels, according to Slater. He estimates the H-3’s inflation adjusted price tag at $2.7 billion in 2006 dollars.

The H-3 cost works out to $41.6 million per lane mile ($2.7 billion divided 16.1 miles, divided again by four lanes), under Slater’s estimates.

The city’s Managed Lane estimate works out to $81.3 million per lane mile ($2.6 billion divided by 16 miles, divided again by two lanes).

Given this math, Slater is close to the truth in saying the city cost estimates for the Managed Lane alternative is twice as much as it cost to build the H-3.

The city has said the construction cost estimates were reviewed by the City Council’s Transit Advisory Task Force and deemed fair and accurate. It says shortening of the Managed Lanes project would not have increased benefits to travelers.

It also says the higher costs for Managed Lanes compared to the H-3 results from several differences between the projects, including the Managed Lanes being built in a heavily developed corridor.

Slater has two figures for Managed Lane construction costs. One is an estimate made several years ago that projected a 10-mile, elevated two-lane freeway costing $67.3 million per lane mile in 2006 dollars.

Slater said the estimate was generally agreed to by Hawaii and national experts that attended a one-day conference exploring a reversible tolled transitway.

His other estimate is derived from the cost of the Tampa Expressway, which used new construction methods to lower costs by 45 percent. When Slater applied this discount to his other $67.3 million estimate, the cost is $37 million per lane mile.

The Alternatives Analysis Report says cost estimates for all of the alternatives were developed using a Federal Transit Administration format. This includes use of standard cost categories that look at all project elements in 10 areas.

The city says unit costs came from Hawaii Department of Transportation data and other data gathered from systems on the Mainland. The city disputes using the Tampa Expressway as a comparison because of inflation, higher real estate costs in Honolulu and construction cost differences between Hawaii and the Mainland.

Slater also contends: the city inflated the Managed Lane alternative’s operating costs by projecting a 50 percent increase in buses compared to the No-Build Alternative while only projecting a 5 percent rider increase.

Slater says the Final EIS did not investigate rail opponents’ concerns about operating costs and alleges the city didn’t address its concerns that operating expenses were inflated for Managed Lanes by increasing the number of buses needed.

The Alternatives Analysis Report cited a cost of $261 million for operating and maintenance expenses for a Managed Lane Alternative. That’s more costly than the $251 million projected for a 20-mile rail project.

Part of the higher cost for a Managed Lane alternative is the number of buses that are required.

The Alternatives Analysis projects as many as 906 buses for the Managed Lanes. That’s almost 50 percent more than the 614 buses forecast under the No-Build alternative.

The No-Build alternative will require 89 more buses be added to 2005’s fleet of 525 buses by the year 2030. They would be needed to keep up with population growth.

Alternative Bus Fleet Transit trips Boardings Operating Costs**
2005 existing 525 178,400 243,100 NA
No Build 614 232,100 330,600 $192 million
Managed Lane* 906 244,400 363,700 $261 million
20-mile rail 596 281,900 455,300 $251 million

Reversible lane mode
*2006 dollars

Source: Alternatives Analysis Tables 5-3, 2-1, 3-7

Transit trips under Managed Lane will only rise 5.3 percent more than the No-Build scenario, the Alternatives Analysis says.

Slater questions why the Alternatives Analysis would add so many buses (along with the higher operating costs) if only a small percentage increase in ridership occurs. He also questions why ridership wouldn’t increase more if the Managed Lane alternative features faster bus service.

Some of the answer, according to the Alternatives Analysis report, is that a Managed Lane alternative would require a bus network that feeds the express buses. The city has said more buses are needed to ensure Managed Lanes function as planned.

“The bus network would be structured to support access to the managed lane via bus transfers at park-and-ride locations as well as by the addition of express bus routes using the Managed Lane viaduct,” the Alternatives Analysis says.

It’s difficult to know given available information whether the bus numbers and in turn the operating costs were padded to make the Managed Lane alternative look bad as Slater charges.

Much of his contention rests on the disparity between a big jump in the number of buses forecast for the Managed Lane system and the small increase in riders.

More analysis tomorrow in Part 3.