Saturday, August 19, 2006


4P rating for Mufi's transit planning

I'm confused. The map of Honolulu's transit system isn't even inked in, but now Mayor Mufi Hannemann appears to be throwing a financial roadblock in front of the train that doesn't yet exist.

In a letter to the editor in today's Honolulu Advertiser, the mayor appears to respond to critics who charge that the $3 billion estimate is unrealistic. Well, it's kind of a response. He seems to say that it won't cost more than $3 billion dollars because all we'll build is what we can get for the $3 billion.

In other words, lack of money would put the brakes on construction. That's very different from planning, budgeting for, and building an effective transit system:

The transit system the city ultimately will support will meet our immediate needs and our budget, estimated at around $3 billion. This is called a "minimal operable system" in the parlance of transportation engineering. Yes, a multifaceted, multimodal approach to solving our growing traffic mess falls within the need-to-have, but I want to be careful that we do not exceed our financial limits.

If revenues from the general excise tax surcharge provide more money for our transportation coffers, or if private partnerships generate a major infusion of cash, or if we receive any financial windfalls for mass transit, then we can consider spending more money to expand the system.

Until then, I will continue to insist that we live within our means.
Ok, I thought I should find out what the mayor means by a ' "minimal operable system" in the parlance of transportation engineering ' and visited the font of all knowledge, Google, to see what transportation engineers mean by that phrase. I'm curious: Will a "minimal operable system" take me from where I live to where I want to go? Does "minimal operable system" buy us a will get a world-class transit system or only a horse trolly?

The Google search came up with only one single reference, in which I find the familiar name Parsons Brinckerhoff. These guys are the mayor's consultants on train-building. Now, perhaps the term has been used elsewhere--just checking with Google is a lazy way of doing research, but for this purpose, it's enough. The term "minimal operable system" does not seem to be in very wide circulation except in the mayor's letter and his consultant's paper.

So I didn't learn anything about what the mayor means, anyway.

But here's my fear: Mufi recently demonstrated by kicking 200 people out of Ala Moana Park without a place to go that he and his administration are not too strong in the planning department. And going beyond the current administration, we have gems like Aloha Stadium still rusting away--remember, the thing was supposed to develop an attractive patina and thenceforth require little maintenance. I recall a sports stadium where home plate wasn't visible from the stands. There's a convention center we'll be paying for forever. And so on.

And now, while we still don't even have clear plans and cost estimates, he's saying he'll stay within the $3 billion budget. Will he just stop work when $3 billion is spent? This sure saves money in up-front planning, anyway. Just build, and stop when you're broke.

I hope he starts construction at one end only. If he starts at both, it will look ridiculous if the Ewa end makes it only to Pearl City and the UH end makes it only to Piikoi when the money is used up. We'd be a world-class laughing stock.

If this is what passes for a financial plan, we are in trouble. Big, big trouble. We deserve to know how many miles of track that $3 billion will buy and where it will be. Now, before construction starts.

When the $3 billion is gone and they're still laying track, we know what will happen: There will be an emergency request, or a dreaded "private partnership" sell-off of the system to complete the work. There is no such thing as "a major infusion of cash," Mufi. You end up giving away public property to greedy private interests in order to bail out the city's piss poor prior planning.


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