In a seismic shift for rail, Honolulu’s top political leadership is endorsing the idea that the island’s elevated transit project should be built only to Middle Street until the city has the money to complete it all the way to Ala Moana Center.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell asked the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board to endorse such a proposal during the group’s meeting today.
“I wish we could go all the way to Ala Moana now. That’s for another day,” Caldwell told board members. “I think we need to focus for now on how we get to Middle Street.”
Caldwell’s comments today echo the sentiments that City Council Chairman Ernie Martin made in a letter sent Tuesday to Federal Transit Administration Regional Administrator Leslie Rogers.
“It is clear that the benefits of such a plan outweigh the drawbacks,” Martin wrote. “It does not preclude us from eventually completing the full 20 miles and 21 stations” when the city has the financial means to finish it. Martin told Rogers that he’ll urge the HART board to endorse ending at Middle Street.
Rail officials now believe rail will cost more than $8 billion to complete, even though local rail tax and federal revenues will only give the project about $6.8 billion, based on the most recent projections.
The FTA has given the city until Aug. 7 to come up with alternatives to finish the project on budget. Last week, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board weighed six options but its members expressed their dissatisfaction with those options. HART’s executive and deputy executive directors recommended trying to build the project as far as the downtown station, near Aloha Tower.
Caldwell administration members have previously expressed their interest in seeing the full 20-mile project completed to Ala Moana Center. Ending it 5 miles short at Middle Street, would diminish ridership and require a larger public subsidy to support rail operations, they said.
Caldwell urged the HART board to make a proposal today, to give the City Council enough time to hold a public hearing on the matter and so the city could send a report to the city by Aug. 7.
The City Council’s Transportation subcommittee is slated to discuss the rail project’s financial situation meeting later today.
Any alternative will have to be approved by the FTA in order for the city to retain its $1.55 billion in federal funding. The FTA says it will “reserve judgment” on federal financial assistance for the project until after it has received and evaluated the City Council and HART’s Recovery Plan.