Marty Stone lights into Honolulu rail planner distorting Tampa El, urges honest comparison with toll lanes
By Peter Samuel
2012-08-20: Martin 'Marty' Stone, director of planning for the Tampa reversible toll express lanes at the Tampa Hillsboro Expressway Authority has written a strong critique of a Honolulu city planner, Toru Hamayasu for comments he made in the rail versus elevated toll lanes controversy in the Pacific islands' state. Hamayasu, a rail enthusiast told the Honolulu Advertiser that costs of the Tampa elevated toll lanes project had "skyrocketed" from initial estimates and that the lanes are only handling 4,000 vehicles/day. It was being "heavily subsidized by revenues from other toll roads," Hamayasu alleged.
In a critique sent to the Honolulu newspaper and posted on an anti-rail website - honolulutraffic.com - Stone says Hamayasu's statements about the Tampa project are "untrue or grossly exaggerated." (NOTE: Throughout his piece Stone refers to Hamayasu in general terms as "the chief city planner" but Toru Hamayasu is his name - editor.)
Hamayasu is trying to defend a $5.2 billion 20 mile elevated rail project against the alternative of elevated toll lanes estimated to cost about a quarter to a fifth as much (Figg Engineering were quoted as saying after a site visit that the elevated toll lanes would cost "about one billion dollars") while offering larger benefits.
Stone says the skyrocketing costs alleged by the Honolulu rail planner in his project in Tampa are "false." A design error by a URS engineer led to undersized piles and the costs of retrofitting extra piles was $120m. That alone took the total project cost from $300m to $420m, but they're hopeful of getting much of that back from URS in compensation.
Properly sizing the piles if done initially would have added only a few million dollars to costs.
Apart from the extra pilings work caused by the URS engineering error the project was on-budget.
The elevated 5.5 miles should have cost $120m but its cost doubled with the tricky work to retrofit extra piles alongside each pier.
At $240m for 16.5 lane-miles (3x5.5) it is about $15m/lane-mile. (If pilings had been properly specified before construction the cost might have been - this is our guess, not Stone's - $140m or $8.5m/lane-mile. A recent THEA estimate of current 2012-$ cost at $175m works out at $10.6m/lane-mile for the elevated roadwork.
Mixing up hourly and daily traffic capacity
Hamayasu also seems to have misrepresented maximum hourly traffic on the Tampa elevated managed lanes as daily traffic (4,000 vehicles) to belittle the potential of a road solution.
The claim that the Tampa lanes project was "heavily subsidized" was a "misrepresentation" too. The project is actually ahead of forecast traffic, Stone says and more than meeting financial goals.
It was financed entirely with toll revenue bonds.
Stone: "Anyone taking the time to query our General Engineering Consultant for a copy of our traffic and revenue reports knows this. Under Florida's Sunshine Law, all of this financial information is available to anyone who asks. Apparently, your chief planner did not do his homework or is intentionally misleading you. Actually, it is worse that that. The intentional distortion of the financial condition of our toll road is indicative of someone who desperately wants to manipulate public opinion in favor of a preordained outcome."
Contravention of professional ethics
Stone says this kind of dishonesty contravenes the canons of ethics of the institute of planners, and the society of civil engineers to which the Honolulu rail planner belongs.
Then he adds that "the biggest dishonesty" propagated by Hamayasu and "his hired guns" is that the Tampa project was the basis for the claim made in Honolulu that the elevated HOT lanes solution would cost $2.6 billion.
In fact a copy of the Tampa project should be less than $1 billion.
Tampa Hillsboro Expressway Authority's chief financial officer had recently estimated for insurance purposes the replacement cost for 5.5 miles of three lanes elevated at today's prices as $175m, ($10.6m/lane-mile) which for 14 miles in Hololulu would be $450m.
"You can add any percentage you wish to compensate for higher construction costs in Hawaii, but it is easy to see why this project should not cost you more than $1 billion. Your chief planner knows this too. He just does not want you to know."
Planners "grossly overestimate costs"
Stone says the Honolulu elevated road alternative is designed by the rail boosters to be high cost:
"Because our project design uses simple, low-cost slip ramps for access, it does not require any interchanges. Your managed lane alternative has a number of unnecessary and expensive interchanges. And, the cost estimates for design and construction management are five times more than the amount required for a concrete segmental bridge project. That alone adds $400 million dollars to the grossly overestimated cost of the (Honolulu) managed lane alternative."
HOT lanes don't create new parking problems, Stone says, because they cater mostly to people who choose to drive and to park anyway. Civil engineers from the University of Hawaii had pointed up the perversity of the city planners' design that dumped all the HOT lanes traffic at one location, then pointed out the congestion this would cause.
Before the opening of the Tampa express lanes, the average 10-mile trip in the morning peak-hour took over thirty minutes.
"Since we opened for interim operations, we have achieved a 50% split in the peak-hours between our new Reversible Express Lanes and our existing expressway lanes. This has resulted in a complete balancing of our traffic between our upper and lower lanes with no congestion for any of our customers and an average trip time of 10 minutes for the 10 miles for everyone.
"In addition, the elevated reversible expressway has been so successful that it is attracting 2,000 additional daily trips away from other non-tolled parallel roads. City of Tampa traffic managers report that all three parallel non-tolled roads are operating better in the peak hour because of diversions to our new express lanes. We could not be more pleased with the project -- it is doing exactly what we thought it would -- providing a safe, reliable, convenient, stress-free trip for people driving into and out of our city every day during what used to be terrible traffic congestion within our corridor.
"And, our local transit agency is reporting a 20% increase in ridership on the express bus routes on our facility within less than three months....
He goes on:
"Thousands of people vote with their pocketbooks every day to use our road. If these customers do not want to pay for using our tollway, they do not have to. The key is they get to choose, unlike projects that many people do not want - projects that benefit only a few but all pay for through some general tax scheme. Toll roads are not forced on anyone. They serve those willing to pay. But, the entire community benefits, including those who do not use the road, because we improve traffic congestion by diverting traffic away from non-tolled highways and streets.
"If you were to build HOT lanes in Honolulu, your public and private transit providers and high occupancy users would have a facility that will allow them to guarantee their arrival schedules. Transit riders would receive reliable, efficient service and automobile drivers would be able to take advantage of that capacity for a very reasonable price -- at their discretion. Those who decide not to pay to use the HOT lanes would also benefit from the reduced congestion in the non-tolled lanes. The elimination from non-tolled highways of traffic comprised of buses, taxis, vanpools and carpools along with those auto drivers who decide to pay, will make things better for everyone.
"We think that is pretty terrific; our customers think so too. And, if anyone on the City staff tells you a different story, they are either sadly misinformed or they are intentionally falsifying the facts to achieve a specific end."
The proposed train is also slow. The published schedule shows it taking 42 minutes for 20 miles, an average speed of 28.5mph. Add walking time at each end plus waiting time at the station and the rail facility is completely uncompetitive with toll managed lanes which can be priced to allow 50 or 55mph free flow trips.
Stone omitted mention of one other benefit of road lanes over rail tracks - that it provides a valuable asset in an emergency, being a route that emergency vehicles can use and which can be used in evacuations.
Prospects good for stopping the rail
Prospects are quite good for stopping the dysfunctional and financially ruinous rail line project and for reviving a self-financing toll express lanes alternative. Last weekend Ben Cayetano the much liked former governor (1994-2002) trounced the incumbent pro-rail Peter Carlisle (44% to 25%) in a Democrat primary election for mayor of Honolulu. Cayetano campaigned strongly against the rail project and is expected to romp it in in a run-off election with a second placed attorney.
Cayetano hasn't endorsed the HOT lanes solution but he is adamant that the $5.2 billion rail project must be stopped in its tracks, so that affordable alternatives can be properly examined.
The next US Congress also may cut off federal funding for the rail project.
Transportation specialist Cliff Slater's website - first to publish Marty Stone's critique - also has other excellent material including details of a proposed toll managed lanes solution by Panos Prevedouros, professor of transport engineering at University of Hawaii/Manoa:
Marty Stone on the Tampa lanes:
Ben Cayetano on rail: