comscore Key Republican in U.S. House backs Honolulu's rail project
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Key Republican in U.S. House backs Honolulu’s rail project

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A key Republican committee chairman in the U.S. House on Thursday issued firm support for Honolulu’s commuter rail project even as other GOP lawmakers proposed huge domestic spending cuts, such as funding for nascent transit systems.

Rep. John Mica of Florida, who heads the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he would work with U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and the Federal Transit Administration to ensure the project “does not get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape.”

“I support this project, especially with Honolulu’s local commitment,” Mica said in a statement released by Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle.

“Honolulu is bordered by the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. This project will service the area where the vast majority of Oahu’s population live and work, and will help address the area’s traffic congestion issues,” Mica added.

Hirono, a Democrat, is a member of the transportation panel. Her district includes the project’s western terminus in the Ewa area.

Mica’s stand on the Honolulu project had been in question after he told The Associated Press soon after November’s elections that gave control of the House to the GOP that some state and local rail proposals were unworthy of federal funding.

Carlisle, who is in Washington for a U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering, trumpeted the chairman’s comments on Thursday.

“I am very pleased and grateful to Rep. Mica for his continuing support for the Honolulu Rail Transit Project,” Carlisle said. “Rep. Mica has offered to help us continue our implementation and expedite the construction of our project.

The Federal Transit Administration on Tuesday awarded the city a “record of decision,” one of the last hurdles before construction can begin on the $5.5 billion system that is to stretch 20 miles from Ewa to Ala Moana.

Mica’s support for the rail project came the same day as the Republican Study Committee, whose conservative members make up about three-fourths of the House GOP caucus, unveiled a proposal to cut domestic spending by $2.5 trillion over the next decade.

The GOP proposal would eliminate $2 billion in annual “new starts” transit funding, of which

Honolulu’s project is expecting to receive a share. Projects to which the federal government has not yet obligated itself would be affected by the proposed cut, said a spokesman for the study committee.

The city and the federal government later this year are to sign a full-funding agreement, said Carlisle spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy.

The overall GOP proposal faces long odds, including likely opposition from some Republicans, the Democrat-led Senate, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, and the White House.

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