After waiting months to reveal deeper details about his traffic plans Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano announced his bus rapid transit plan today. But his opponent says it's too little too late.
"It's called FAST, Flexible, Affordable Smart Transportation," said Ben Cayetano, during a press conference at his campaign headquarters.
Cayetano's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan would add 36 more buses to expand express service from eight areas including Ewa, Mililani, and Kapolei. There would also be a College Express bus route to serve the universities. The buses would have dedicated or shoulder lanes.
"For those people who say all these buses will be lined up downtown one after another like elephants in a circus holding their tail that's not going to be the case at all. These things will be spread out going different directions," says Cayetano. "I think what is significant about bus rapid transit is that it shows the flexibility of the system. If this thing doesn't work we try something else."
Cayetano's plan calls for more lanes on King Street and Nimitz Highway. There's also a two mile elevated bus lane flyover from the airport viaduct to downtown Honolulu over Nimitz Highway. That's a plan he didn't like as Governor but does now.
He wants to build four underpasses at high traffic intersections so cars don't have to wait at red lights. The intersections include Kapiolani Boulevard and Kalakaua Avenue; Kapiolani and Date Street; Beretania Street and McCully Street; and Kapiolani and McCully. The underpass would take a minimum of four months to build. It could run into iwi issues that have delayed the current rail project. And the road would need to be closed during construction which would also cause traffic problems.
Cayetano also wants to synchronize traffic lights to keep the flow of traffic moving.
"You spend $1 million, you can get $40 million in benefits which is saving fuel and saving time for the people," said Panos Prevedouros, University of Hawaii Civil Engineering Professor and former mayoral candidate who worked on many of the ideas.
Cayetano says it can all be done for $1.1 billion, about a fifth the cost of rail. He also thinks he could use the tax money collected for rail. He would also go to the state legislature to request using the extra money from the rail tax for use on the sewer and water systems.
"Now that BRT is classified as a fixed guideway we will qualify for the use of the rail monies without having to do any further revision," said Cayetano.
"I disagree," said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayoral Candidate and Cayetano Opponent. "I can promise you that state law and city ordinance will have to be revised before that money can be used and if he doesn't there are huge legal ramifications."
Cayetano's plan would all require a lot of collaboration with the state. He says he has not gone over the details with Governor Neil Abercrombie yet, but has spoken with him about the plan overall. He also adds the state has already signed off on rail work on state roads and believes it will on BRT as well.
"Of course it requires cooperation with the state. We don't think that is going to be a problem because I am sure that Governor Abercrombie like everyone else is interested in ways of easing traffic congestion. So unless our project gets in the way of things that they want to do I'm highly confident we will be able to cooperate," said Cayetano. "You got a governor, and if I'm mayor, you'll have a governor and a mayor, one is 73 years old, the other guy is 72 years old, we have no other political ambitions. There is nothing to fight about and everything to gain by just doing the job for the people. I know Governor Abercrombie very well. He wrote the foreword to my book. We're very good friends. So I think you can't have a better situation for a governor and mayor to cooperate."
Caldwell says it's not that simple and called it a half baked plan in the eleventh hour.
"It's easy to talk and it's harder to deliver. We all know in big huge mass transit projects and huge highway projects there is huge push back," said Caldwell. "Teaming up doesn't mean you get the money tomorrow."
Cayetano thinks he could get most of his plan done within a four year term. Caldwell says the environmental impact statement alone would take years.
"I think he's going to face much the same kind of problem. These projects are complex, they're in the most dense parts of our city, there will need to be a lot of negotiation, a lot of hurdles, environmental impact statements, funding issues, lawsuits, iwi. We're talking about digging deep here," said Caldwell.
Caldwell believes Honolulu can forget about the $1.55 billion in federal money the city if vying for saying the Federal Transit Administration will have felt slighted by the city yet again if they drop the rail plan. Cayetano disagrees.
"I just have some feelings I think are common sense. Wouldn't the FTA be more open to a smaller full funding agreement with Honolulu than a $1.5 billion agreement?" said Cayetano. "I think they will be delighted to look at our system."
Current Mayor Peter Carlisle, who just returned from talks in Washington with the Federal Transportation Administration, contends the federal funding for rail would be lost with Cayetano's plan.
"If we have a pro-rail candidate who is elected mayor, we will get $1.55 billion in federal funding, to a degree of certainty. On the other hand, if we have an anti-rail candidate who is elected mayor, then that certainty evaporates," said Carlisle. "With former Gov. Cayetano's plan, that goes out the tube and will never, ever come back."
City Council Chair Ernie Martin, who also went to Washington, said the city could also lose more than that. "The federal government would also seek recovery of some of the federal funds that have been already spent," he said. "Additionally, we've entered into a number of contracts. If we have to go about canceling those contracts, the cost to the city to settle some of the penalties that we would incur as a result of canceling those contracts would be significant as well."
For more information about Ben Cayetano's bus rapid transit plan click here.
For more information about Kirk Caldwell click here.