Tuesday, April 22, 2014         

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Train opponents cheer prediction of cost overruns

By Michael Tsai


Opponents of the proposed Honolulu rail project welcomed the financial analysis commissioned by the Lingle administration as validation of many of their concerns last night.

Former mayoral candidate Panos Prevedouros called the analysis, prepared by the Infrastructure Management Group Inc., "a good reality check" for those who want to see the city proceed with its rail plan.

Prevedouros, a University of Hawaii professor of civil engineering and an outspoken opponent of the rail project, said he was not at all surprised that the analysis found the rail system would likely cost $1.7 billion more than stated in the current financial plan.

Prevedouros said the analysis was consistent with the 2009 Federal Transit Authority report prepared by the Dallas consulting firm Jacobs Engineering Group, which placed the estimated cost of Oahu's 20-mile system at $5.29 billion but also indicated that there was a chance that the cost could reach or exceed $8.1 billion.

"(Jacobs) did not have a stake in the game. They were just reporting a number," Prevedouros said. "They're experts in getting it right, and they said there was a high chance of overruns. I would trust them more than I would trust advocates of the project."

Prevedouros said the results of the latest analysis should give lawmakers pause as they consider whether and how rail should proceed.

"They may have to assess more taxes if they want to proceed because the money that was promised by the feds isn't there anymore," he said. "It's a different Congress. This will give them pause. It's a perilous path heading forward."

Cliff Slater, one of the project's most outspoken critics, said the report was more pessimistic than his projections of general excise tax collections but is more optimistic than he is that federal money will be available.

Slater said he was impressed with the depth of the study and was encouraged by how closely it reflected what he and other rail foes have said for years.

For example, the analysis found the city's ridership projections to be overly optimistic, arguing that they relied on "unprecedented and unrealistic growth" in mass transit use in Hawaii.

Slater has criticized what he called the city's use of outdated population projections and called unrealistic its assumption that transit use will jump from 6 percent to 7.4 percent. "That's a change in market share that has never happened in any 20-year period," he said.

"The city will have to take a different tack in how they deal with us," Slater said. "Usually they just attack us personally, but this report was prepared by heavyweights, so they're going to have to argue the substance of it. I'm hoping it will force the authorities to get away from the hype and deal with the truth."

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