The Honolulu City Council’s Transportation Committee held a discussion Thursday about the federal government’s new Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, as it’s more commonly called.
MAP-21 changes many of the aspects of how transportation projects are funded by the federal government through the next two fiscal years, including bus rapid transit, or BRT.
The City Council hearing comes two weeks after anti-rail mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano unveiled his F.A.S.T. transit plan at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.
The centerpiece of Cayetano’s proposal is a BRT system that would use the existing morning zipper lane, as well as an evening zipper lane, which the state expects to begin construction on next spring. The plan also makes use of highway shoulder lanes and dedicated bus lanes on King, Hotel and Alakea Streets, as well as Vineyard Boulevard.
Informing the council about MAP-21 was Brian Gibson, executive director of the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, who has had extensive contact with the Federal Transit Administration over the past decade.
Transportation Committee Chair Breene Harimoto said Gibson was the best option to address the council, since city Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka supports rail transit, and it was too expensive to bring someone to Honolulu from the FTA.
After an extensive presentation about what MAP-21 would mean to municipalities seeking transportation funds, Gibson said the program does allow BRT systems to recover some of the construction costs from the federal government. However, he said the funding is only available if BRT systems use dedicated lanes, and mimic some of the same aspects of rail.
Under MAP-21 said Gibson, BRT systems can use high-occupancy lanes if the overall cost is under $75 million. Projects that cost more must contain some of the same features of rail transit, for instance dedicated stations for passengers.
“You can put your buses on HOV lanes and it would qualify,” said Gibson. “Or, if you want to spend more than $75 million, basically the same definition, but it has to be a bus transit system in which the majority operates in a separated right of way dedicated to public transportation use during peak periods."
However, Gibson cautioned that cancelling the $5.3 rail project would result in Honolulu losing $1.55 billion in federal funds under a full funding grant agreement, which the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation expects to sign by the end of the year.
The 20-mile long rail project from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center was forced to halt construction Aug. 24 after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled an archeological inventory survey must be completed along the entire route. The AIS is meant to identify native Hawaiian burials along the route, which can only be moved or kept in place with prior approval from the State Historic Preservation Division and the Oahu Island Burial Council.