Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano released five emails Tuesday from the Federal Transit Administration that he maintains reveal deep apprehension about the city?s $5.3 billion rail project.
?Not only it is apparent that FTA officials share some of our concerns, but it's also apparent that they warned the city about pending litigation if certain things were not done,? said Cayetano, during a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Mapunapuna.
In an email written on April 21 of 2009, an FTA official in the Office of Planning and Environment expressed concern about an EPA letter that questioned alternatives to the rail project. The email read as follows: ?As you know, the EPA has recently submitted a letter questioning why alternatives to an elevated rail line, such as light rail at street level and bus rapid transit, weren?t evaluated in the project?s environmental impact study.?
The FTA emails are part of the city's administrative record, obtained by Cayetano and six other plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit intended to stop the controversial rail project. The lawsuit alleges alternatives to the rail project were not properly vetted, or even worse, misrepresented.
In another email written on November 14 of 2006, the same FTA official apparently expresses concern over the city?s dissemination of information to the public about the $5.3 billion project. ?I do not think the FTA should be associated with their lousy practices of public manipulation and we should call them on it,? wrote the email?s author.
Cayetano believes that email in particular demonstrates the city?s attempt to mislead the public about the benefits of the elevated rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana.
?That to me it?s a very telling statement in the way the city has put a spin on everything they have done with respect to rail,? said Cayetano.
In response to the press conference, a spokesman for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation issued the following statement on behalf of the FTA:
?There is no question that this project has overcome early obstacles because of a much improved Federal partnership with the City of Honolulu and State of Hawaii over the last several years. The Federal Transit Administration believes that this project will bring much needed relief from the suffocating congestion on the H-1 Freeway and provide a real transportation alternative for the people of Oahu as gas prices rise.?
Cayetano continues to support a bus rapid transit system instead of rail, and pointed to a 2000 study by engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff that showed such a system could accomplish nearly all of the objectives of rail. Back then, the estimated cost of BRT was about $1 billion.
?The first step before you consider something as expensive as rail is to improve the bus system,? said Cayetano. ?So if we come up with a system that is less or more (than a billion), it's far cheaper than rail.?
The former governor also supports staggering class times at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in order to ease traffic congestion. ?Things like that that don't cost a lot of money; and (when done) comprehensively will affect traffic,? he said.
If he wins the race for mayor, the former governor said he would petition state lawmakers to use money currently dedicated for rail for a BRT system instead.
?I'll propose to them a deal that? they can?t refuse because basically it will leave the state with at least a billion dollars for their own use.?
Cayetano?s campaign also raised a red flag about a $15 million change order approved by former HART interim executive director Toru Hamayasu.
The change order involves a $483 million rail contract awarded to Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. for the first phase of the project.
According to the administrative record, Hamayasu authorized the change order in October of last year. However, the additional cost wasn?t revealed until this past January when a story appeared in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.