Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano has taken out a full-page ad in today’s Washington Post appealing directly to President Donald Trump to end the federal government’s spending deal with Honolulu on rail transit.
The ad, which says it was paid for by the Princess Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation, asks Trump to withhold the $800 million or so left in the Federal Transit Administration’s $1.55 billion full funding grant agreement, a move that Cayetano says will compel the city to “seriously consider some of the less costly alternatives to complement the rail system.”
The ad notes that rail’s costs have nearly doubled in the past several years, rising from about $5.26 billion (Cayetano puts it at $5.28 billion) at the time the federal deal was inked to costs approaching $10 billion when the financing and costs to pay off interest are included.
“Honolulu’s rail project does not deserve a single dollar more from the federal government,” Cayetano’s signed ad states. “It has become a poster boy for how politics incompetence, disinformation and outright lies are at the root of wasteful rail projects which do little for the public except raise taxes.”
Kawananakoa funded a lawsuit against the city in recent years, challenging the validity of City Council votes for the transit project, arguing that members had not publicly disclosed conflicts of interest.
The ad further includes renderings prepared several years ago by the Honolulu chapter of the American Institute of Architects that show before-and-after images of Nimitz Highway with a large, concrete guideway running down the corridor.
“If built, this will change the beauty and ambience of the city forever,” it reads.
The ad looks to upend the 20-mile, 21-station project as planned at one of the most critical junctures in its history. With the cost increases, the project is currently about $3 billion short of what’s needed to finish it and state lawmakers are weighing another extension of Oahu’s general excise tax surcharge.
The city and its rail agency also have an April 30 deadline to give the FTA a “recovery plan” on how they aim to deal with the funding obstacles and still build a viable system. They’re hoping another GET extension will mostly help fix that challenge.
If the FTA doesn’t accept whatever plan the city submits, it could revoke the $1.55 billion.