Saturday, October 09, 2010


Rail Tales: Mapping the Landscape of the Proposed Rail System

By Henry Curtis

I have attended several conferences this summer where speakers intentionally avoid discussing rail. So I reviewed the 1000+ pages of comments submitted in response to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Project proponents include the American Planning Association Hawai`i Chapter, University of Hawai`i System, Windward Ahupua`a Alliance, Sierra Club O`ahu Group, D R Horton: Schuler Division and Castle & Cooke.

Federal agencies raised numerous concerns. These agencies included the General Services Administration, the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Army, the Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Department of the Interior. In addition, Federal Judges based in Hawai`i and the U.S. Marshall for Hawai`i raised security issues.

State agencies also raised significant issues. Those staking out concerns include the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Hawai`i Community Development Authority, the DBEDT Office of Planning, the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture and the University of Hawai`i at Manoa Environmental Center. On the other hand, the Hawai`i Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) supports the project.

Kamehameha Schools offered extensive suggestions and favors building an at-grade rail system. Life of the Land believes that if rail is ever built, it should be at-grade wherever possible.

Several organizations pointed out major shortcomings in the proposed rail project. Issues were raised by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honolulu, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Hawai`i’s Thousand Friends, Historic Hawai`i Foundation, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Kaka`ako Business and Landowners Association, the Outdoor Circle, Hawai`i Independent Democrats, the League of Women Voters-Honolulu and Life of the Land.

Groups that support the project include the Democratic Party.

Groups which have no stated position include Hawai`i Audubon Society, Blue Planet Foundation, KAHEA and Voter Owned Hawai`i.

Federal Agencies

United States General Services Administration, Public Buildings Service, PJKK Federal Building:
“The United States General Services Administration is the owner of record of the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and Courthouse located at 300 Ala Moana Boulevard (“PJKK Building”). We have never received any notice from the City and County of Honolulu Department of Transportation Services Rapid Transit Division (DOT) about this project. As such, we were surprised to learn that the proposed project entails the construction and operation of an elevated transit system along a narrow street directly abutting the PJKK Building on Halekauila Street. ...We hereby request an immediate meeting with DOT ...We would caution DOT not to proceed on the basis that any property necessary for this project (including air rights) along Halekauila can be obtained through the eminent domain process since this process is not available against the United States. We trust that DOT will immediately correct its notice procedure”

Federal Judges (Chief Justice Helen Gillmor, Judge Susan Oki Mollway, Judge J. Michael Seabright, Judge Samuel P. King, Judge Alan C Kay, Magistrate Judge Barry M. Kurren, Magistrate Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi, Magistrate Judge Kevin S.C. Chang)
“Neither the U.S. Marshall nor any other federal court security representative was previously consulted or even contacted regarding a proposed transit line running along Halekauila Street adjacent to the Federal Courthouse. The City’s security committee also acknowledged that none of its security specialists who participated in preparing its analysis was familiar with security standards for Federal Courthouses.”

Chief Judge Helen Gillmor, U.S. District Court: District of Hawai`i
“I write on behalf of the Judges of the United States District Court to strongly voice our opposition to the proposed route of the Honolulu Rail Transit System on Halekauila Street immediately adjacent to the Federal Court Building. ...the guideway structure will be 45 feet above street level and will pass within a mere 45 feet of the Federal Courthouse building. Our Court building is 4 stories high, so the guideway structure will be at the same level as the windows of three Judges’ chambers. ...The city’s security analysis concludes that ‘the possibility of an assault from the viaduct to the Courthouse is deemed to be most improbable for many reasons;’ yet the analysis fails to effectively address our concerns. ...The proposed rail transit system on Halekauila Street would expose the Federal Courthouse to a much greater risk, similar to the train bombings which occurred in Madrid.”

U.S. Marshall for the District of Hawai`i: “I concur with the above assessment of the Judges of this District”

Department of the Navy: “We are concerned that the City and County of Honolulu (CCH) has conducted assessments of Navy properties and evaluated said properties for National Registry eligibility without Navy input. ...We maintain that Navy's National Registry for Historic Places (NRHP) eligibility determinations remain valid and that CCH may not revise these determinations on Navy's behalf.”

Department of the Army, US Army Engineering District, Honolulu: “Based on our review, we found that a number of our agency’s previous comments and concerns relating to the identification/delineation of waters of the United States, project impact assessment, the 404(b)(1) alternatives analysis, and proposed compensatory mitigation were not adequately addressed or incorporated into the DEIS. In the absence of this key information, we are unable to provide meaningful comments on the subject draft document as it relates to our statutory responsibilities. Moreover, these data and assessment deficiencies could adversely affect the timeliness and streamlining of our Department of the Army (DA) permit decision.”

U.S. Department of the Interior: National Park Service: “A 30-40 foot tall elevated guideline transit system along Kamehameha Highway could cause significant negative impacts to the Pearl Harbor NHL [National Historic Landmark District] view shed.”

United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA): “While the EPA supports the goal of providing transportation choices to the communities of Oahu, we have some concerns relating to wetlands, water quality, environmental justice, and noise impacts. ... while we believe that most of the alternatives eliminated prior to the DEIS are documented sufficiently, we have remaining questions about why light rail or bus rapid transit in an exclusive right-of-way were not considered reasonable alternatives in the DEIS. ...While we believe that the DEIS appropriately identified EJ [environmental justice] areas, we have concerns about the proposed relocation of residents of the Banana Patch community, which is identified in the DEIS as an EJ area of concern.”

State Agencies

Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR): “The State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) disagrees with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that this project will have “no adverse effect” of known and potentially unknown historic properties, potential burial sites, cultural landscapes and traditional cultural properties.”

Hawai`i Department of Transportation (DOT): “The Project will generate significant impacts to DOT airports, highways and harbor facilities. The fixed guideway rail system should be viewed as part of a comprehensive, multi- and inter- modal transportation system.”

Hawai`i Community Development Authority: “The issue of “elevated” or “at-grade” track for Kakaako and Kalaeloa Districts does not appear to be fully explored. This issue needs to be analyzed in depth and (at a minimum) the Kakaako and Kalaeloa communities need to be engaged.”

DBEDT Office of Planning: “Preservation of important agricultural lands is a priority for the State and counties. The DEIS ...concludes that the effects would not be significant. These lands are currently in agricultural use and represent a significant percentage of prime agricultural lands on Oahu. Please discuss how the loss of these lands can be justified, how other lands of equal importance on Oahu can be protected, and the impact to the specific farm operations and whether they will be able to relocate.”

Hawai`i Department of Education: “The discussion of transit oriented development, which goes hand-in-hand with the development of the transit system, does not acknowledge that increased residential density in urban areas such as Waipahu could generate demand for additional public service space such as parks and school sites that cannot be met in areas already so urbanized.”

Hawai`i Department of Agriculture: “The Project sit has many attributes that would likely qualify it as candidate important Agricultural Lands, pursuant to Chapter 205, Hawai`i Revised Statutes. The loss of these highly productive agricultural lands and any relocation of the affected farming operations northward make it critical that the agricultural lands, north on the H-1 Freeway and along Kunia Road, designated as “Agricultural Land Preservation” in the Ewa Development Plan and Central Oahu Sustainable Communities Plan remain in agriculture. The DEIS states that the project will displace less than one-tenth of one percent of the 70,000 acres of agricultural land in cultivation on Oahu. ...The DEIS for the Hoopili development through which the Project right-of-way passes through, identified four farming operations that are leased or licensed to occupy agricultural lands in the vicinity of the Project ... Aloun Farms ...Fat Law’s Farm ... Sugarland Farms ...Syngenta Seeds ... The four farms had ---4.4% of Oahu revenue from sales of all crops ...[and] about 3.9% of all farm workers on Oahu.”

University of Hawai`i Environmental Center: “We feel that the DEIS does not adequately capture the full range of costs and benefits associated with the proposed project. It appears to focus too narrowly on transportation elements rather than the full range of social, environmental, and economic benefits and costs associated with the proposed project.”

Hawai`i Department of Hawaiian Homelands: “DHHL is supportive of the proposed phasing of the HHCTC project to start construction between Kapolei and Waipahu.”


American Planning Association Hawai`i Chapter: “APA Hawai`i Chapter has been a consistent supported of the Honolulu Fixed Guideway project due to the potential it holds for both improving transportation mobility and access among the population, and due to the effect it can have on a more compact and sustainable form of development for the communities and the neighborhoods along the corridor.”

University of Hawai`i System: “The University of Hawai`i continues to support the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project.”

Windward Ahupua`a Alliance: “Wish it were different but accept current design ...what's being proposed by the City is better than nothing at all given our dependency on fossil fuels and their negative impacts on our environment.”

Sierra Club O`ahu Group: “The Sierra Club O`ahu Group supports the Fixed Guideway (rail) alternative. The Fixed Guideway alternative provides what O`ahu needs most: an alternative to the automobile. ...The O`ahu Group believes that any transit plan will succeed only if it is coordinated with other policies that vigorously promote transit ridership and transform land use patterns.”

D R Horton: Schuler Division: “We are the developers of the master planned Ho`opili project in West Kapolei, and have been and continue to be a strong supporter of this project. ...The proposed project will increase the infrastructure capacity support the planned growth in the West Oahu region.”

Castle & Cooke: “This project is critical”

Kamehameha Schools

“KS supports a rail transit system on Oahu as a long-term transportation solution. ...We have also retained consultants to provide us with an independent review of specific aspects of the Project. The review of the thousands of pages of highly technical material of the DEIS has taken time, and we appreciate your efforts in providing an extension of time for responses. It has made a meaningful difference in the quality of our review. For the review, we have found many positive aspects to the DEIS and the proposed system. We have also identified, which is understandable in a document of this complexity, some items we believe require additional study and work. ...

The elevated system will cause visual blight and additional details on visual and aesthetic impacts for evaluation by viewer groups would allow a more complete analysis. ...An at-grade or multi-modal transit system in the urban core is an alternative worth evaluating to determine whether it is a less expensive and quicker to construct than an elevated system. ...Because the issue of whether the rail system should run on an elevated line instead of at-grade was never squarely raised during the alternatives analysis process, KS did not previously have the opportunity to comment on the relative merits of an at-grade versus elevated system. It does not appear that the at-grade alternatives were adequately studied before being eliminated from consideration in the DEIS.”

Organizations with Serious Concerns

AIA Honolulu: “We must act now to change the current all-elevated, electrified ("hot") rail technology as planned by the City Administration to light rail technology. If we begin construction of the project using the current planned technology (heavy rail), we will be locked into a future our citizens of Hawai`i cannot afford. ... AIA is pro-rail and believes light rail is the right rail for Honolulu.”

Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation: “The City has failed to provide adequately information on the risks of encountering ancient Hawaiian burial remains (iwi kupuna) in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement despite the clear requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, HRS Chapter 343, HRS Chapter 6E and the Hawai`i Constitution Art. XII § 7.”

Hawai`i’s Thousand Friends: “The DEIS does not provide a full and open analysis of the short and long-term direct, indirect and cumulative social and environmental impacts from the various aspects of the fixed guideway system. ...What are the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of all of the above increased population on the rail system and traffic congestion within Kapolei.”

“Elevated fixed rail routes will negatively impact the established landscape of Honolulu and significant view planes makai to mauka …The rail line will be ugly and block views with concrete rail beds 30-feet wide supported by pillars that are 35-40 feet high and six feet in diameter spaced at 150 feet intervals.”

Historic Hawai`i Foundation: “The proposed Honolulu Transit Corridor project will have a dramatic impact on the landscape of the island of O`ahu; this includes not only the direct impact to specific parcels, but primarily the visual effect on the landscape and historic resources. HHF is concerned that the Draft EIS does not accurately take into account these larger impacts, but rather focuses on those adverse effects caused by the direct taking of land. ...It is vital that direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to districts, bridges, view planes, and individual structures as a result of the presence of the guideway and rail stations are acknowledged and properly identified as adverse impacts.”

Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Washington DC: “It is unclear to us how the FTA has proceeded to this point without ongoing consultation with all consulting parties.

Kaka`ako Business and Landowners Association: “The Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project (HHCTCP), the accompanying construction, and the Transit Oriented Developmet (TOD) will have a detrimental impact on the small businesses and small property owners in Kaka`ako.”

The Outdoor Circle: “The system’s alignment will result in the removal of more than 800 street trees. About one-half to two-thirds of those trees will be transported to unspecified “appropriate areas,” but that leaves a possible deficit of more than 300 trees with no mitigation to the environment for the tree removals.” “degrading our island's visual environment with an overhead system significantly decrease Honolulu's visual appeal as a place to live.”

Hawai`i Independent Democrats believe that an “all-elevated Oahu rail project could bankrupt the City.”
League of Women Voters-Honolulu “has an established position opposing rail on Oahu.”

Life of the Land: If the rail project is built, the rail line should be at grade where ever possible. Transportation and land use issues are intertwined. Building new highways and/or rail will impact population growth rates and increase pressure to urbanize additional prime agricultural land. These holistic issues must be addressed in the EIS. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has published the “Forty Most Asked Questions” about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): “Section 1502.14 requires the EIS to examine all reasonable alternatives to the proposal. In determining the scope of alternatives to be considered, the emphasis is on what is "reasonable" rather than on whether the proponent or applicant likes or is itself capable of carrying out a particular alternative. Reasonable alternatives include those that are practical or feasible from the technical and economic standpoint and using common sense, rather than simply desirable from the standpoint of the applicant. ...Alternatives that are outside the scope of what Congress has approved or funded must still be evaluated in the EIS if they are reasonable.”


Adrienne LaFrance, writing for Civil Beat (Oct 5, 2010), interviewed two people running for City Council.

Richard Turbin: “I have some reservations in the sense that I don’t think the best technology is being used. We should be using state-of-the-art light rail.”

Sesnita Moepono: “I am concerned that if there is not enough money to fund the project then the County will have to raise real property taxes” ... I am supportive of a rail-transit project that won't bankrupt our county.”

Some individuals stated their personal, not organizational, opinions to me:

Kory Payne: “My personal opinion is 'wish it were different but accept current design'.”

Linda Paul: “Personally, I'm in favor of rapid transit if it runs along a straight track down the existing freeways that: services the airport; services Leeward Community College, points in between downtown and that college and all the way out to the court house area near Ko`olina; and services Punahou, the University at Manoa and all the way out to Hawaii Kai. Service from that straight track to Waikiki and the Ward Center area needs to be a low tech, street car kind of service.”

Makaala Kaaumoana: “I support a ground based rail system that provides airport service.”

Marti Townsend: “I want a better more functional and flexible and comprehensive bus system.”

Marjorie Ziegler: “I support public mass transit”

Alan Murakami: “I oppose rail”

# # #

Contact Henry Curtis at


How much money has been wasted to date on this proposed rail system? I oppose rail.

It ain't going past the PJKK Federal building,which means all new plans,EIS etc. The Fed judges trump the city and state totally on this. Breaks my heart.

Palolo lolo is correct, I think. I've posted that a lien is needed if the train is to go by the federal courthouse, and that the judges have already said they won't let the train go outside their office windows. As far as I know, that still stands.


Great summary - my comment and position notwithstanding, I am opposed for two reasons:

(1) As the League of Women Voters pointed out early on (you've missed citing its very important analysis), Honolulu is rated the 14th largest city in the nation. Caldwell has pointed to this fact in order to support hard rail, arguing all similar sized cities have it. However, according to the LWV, Honolulu is rated 42d largest metropolitan area in the nation. This is the more appropriate comparison - rail must be supported by the outlying metro areas in any city. There are no comparable metro areas in the nation that has assumed such a huge debt load!! Why hasn't this analysis been highlighted by the analysts. Honolulu cannot afford this construction debt in addition to the unknown operational costs.

(2) The city is ignoring the law on protecting burial sites. There must be an early assessment of the potential impact of this project on the Kaka`ako corridor. The only way to to that is to demand an immediate archaeological inventory survey that is professionally reviewed. The city is postponing that survey until it reaches the construction phase that will lock it into the alignment through Kaka`ako. That is NOT what the law contemplates. The O`ahu Island Burial Council has pointed this problem out repeatedly and drawn the attention of the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (cited above). PLEASE cite this position of the OIBC - the SHPD is NOT supporting the council, another in a long line of problems with this administration's refusal to support island burial councils concerned about following the law!!

Mahalo for the work you do


Post a Comment

Requiring those Captcha codes at least temporarily, in the hopes that it quells the flood of comment spam I've been receiving.

<< Home


page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Newer›  ‹Older