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

Here is Honolulu Hale’s verbatim response to Civil Beat in response to the question, “Did the process that culminated in the current city proposal adequately evaluate what would be the most cost-effective transit solution to best serve the largest number of people? Please explain.”

Mahalo for the opportunity to inform your readers about the rail transit project (the Project). Answers to the first two questions are below. (The answer to the second question has not been included here. Civil Beat will publish it later.) We note the search for Honolulu’s mass transit alternative has already been extensively discussed since 2005 at the state Legislature, the Honolulu City Council, in Honolulu’s news media, and at community venues such as Neighborhood Boards.

Questions similar to Civil Beat’s have been answered many times in these forums.

The fixed guideway is a policy of the City and County of Honolulu, per the Locally Preferred Alternative that was debated, voted on and approved by the Honolulu City Council, and signed into City law by then-Mayor Hannemann in 2006. Voters on Oahu affirmed the policy when they approved the rail transit City Charter Amendment in 2008.


Q: Did the process that culminated in the current city proposal adequately evaluate what would be the most cost-effective transit solution to best serve the largest number of people? Please explain.

A: We strongly encourage you to read Chapter 2 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement, titled “Alternatives Considered.” The Chapter summarizes alternatives considered for the Project.

Here are key highlights: The Preferred Alternative evaluated throughout the Final EIS (fixed guideway in exclusive right of way) resulted from a rigorous process involving compliance with and responses to the:

  • Hawaii Revised Statues (HRS) Chapter 343 EIS preparation notice comment period.
  • Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project Alternative Analysis Report (Alternatives Analysis).
  • National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) scoping process.
  • Comments received during the public review of the Draft EIS.

The Project was developed following the process outlined in the U.S. Federal Transit Administration’s Advancing Major Transit Investments through Planning and Project Development.

Prior to completion of the rail transit Draft EIS, a full range of reasonable alternatives was evaluated at three stages.

1) A broad range of alternatives was considered and screened down to four alternatives for evaluation in the Alternatives Analysis:
No Build Alternative.
Transportation System Management Alternative (expanded bus service).
Managed Lane Alternative (elevated two-lane highway between Waipahu and downtown for buses and toll-paying HOV and single-occupant vehicles; sometimes referred to as High Occupancy Toll Lanes).
Fixed Guideway Alternative

2) The Alternatives Analysis recommended, and the City Council identified, the Fixed Guideway Alternative as the Locally Preferred Alternative. A fixed guideway system would improve public transit performance and reliability, be more cost-effective than the other alternatives and substantially reduce traffic delay for all travelers, not just public transit users.

The Transportation System Management Alternative would not have substantially reduced congestion relative to the No Build Alternative and would not have improved corridor mobility and travel reliability.

The Managed Lane Alternative would not have qualified for the Project’s primary funding sources: the General Excise and Use Tax surcharge paid by Oahu residents, businesses and visitors, and Federal New Starts funding. Because it would not have resulted in substantially fewer environmental impacts and would not have been financially feasible, the Managed Lane Alternative is not a practicable alternative.

The Fixed Guideway and Managed Lane alternatives were compared to the Transportation System Management alternative for cost effectiveness. The Managed Lane alternative had a cost of approximately $103 per hour of transit user benefit gained. The Fixed Guideway had a cost of between $22 and $23 per hour of transit user benefit gained – about four times more effective than the Managed Lane Alternative.

3) Scoping for the for the NEPA process confirmed there were no alternatives that had not been previously studied and eliminated for good cause that would satisfy the Purpose and Need at less cost, with greater effectiveness, or less environmental or community impact.

Reconsidering Managed Lane Alternative (HOT Lanes)

During the NEPA scoping process, several scoping comments were received requesting reconsideration of the Managed Lane Alternative. This alternative was considered during the Alternatives Analysis process and found to provide little benefit compared to the Fixed Guideway. Because no new information was provided that would have substantially changed the findings of the Alternatives Analysis process regarding the Managed Lane Alternative, this alternative was not included in the Draft EIS. Based on the findings of the Alternatives Analysis, the Managed Lane Alternative fails to meet the Purpose and Need because it does not moderate anticipated traffic congestion and because it does not provide a faster, more reliable and more equitable transportation option compared to the Fixed Guideway.

Additional Proposals

In addition to suggestions to reconsider previously eliminated alternatives, three separate proposals were received and documented in the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project National Environmental Policy Act Scoping Report.

One proposal was to provide additional bus service with either school buses or private vehicles.

The second was for a High-Speed Bus Alternative to include aspects of the Fixed Guideway Alternative and the Managed Lane Alternative.

These proposals were similar to alternatives that had already been considered and eliminated during the Alternatives Analysis process. Therefore, they were not considered in the Draft EIS.

The third proposal was for an additional fixed guideway alternative serving the Honolulu International Airport. This alternative was included in the Draft EIS.

Fixed Guideway: additional cost effectiveness measures

The Draft EIS determined the Fixed Guideway’s Airport Alternative had a cost of around $18 per hour of transit user benefit gained. This is lower than the Alternatives Analysis because the Draft EIS determined the Fixed Guideway will serve more riders. The Final EIS gauged the Fixed Guideway’s cost at about $16 per hour of transit user benefit gained, again because of the increase in ridership.

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