Forensic audit needed for rail project
How much is too much? When taking opportunity cost into consideration, Honolulu’s rail cost will likely be $33 per ride.
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How much is too much?
When taking opportunity cost into consideration, Honolulu’s rail cost will likely be $33 per ride.
Opportunity cost is an economics term used to describe the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
In 2017, the Government Accountability Office reported that, with financing costs, Oahu’s rail project cost would come in at almost $10 billion.
If Honolulu placed that $10 billion into investments that yielded a 5 percent return, the annual opportunity cost would be a sizeable $500 million a year — available for transportation alternatives.
When adding in the $100 million projected for rail’s yearly operating costs, that’s an annual $600 million that could have been made available for a wide array of transportation alternatives, given all the new technology that has been developed since this project began.
With rail ridership that’s likely to be 18 million yearly — half of what the city is projecting — the cost for each ride would be the aforementioned $33 — with most of that borne by Oahu taxpayers.
Voters in 2010, after being told by officials that Honolulu’s rail would cost $3 billion, approved a City Charter amendment to create a semi-autonomous public transit authority to oversee planning, construction, operation and extension of the rail system. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) began operations July 1, 2011.
But now, with costs approaching $10 billion, there are calls from reasonable people asking for a pause at Middle Street and to examine other options to complete the line.
As a member of HART’s board of directors, I have called on fellow directors in a May 21 letter to pause and reevaluate. The objective is to avoid any more cost overruns and prolonged delays.
There is an old saying that goes something like “flawed from the start, flawed in the end.” Given the evidence, it is appropriate now to stop and seek a restart.
With rail approaching the expensive segment from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center, a call for a halt at Middle Street — for a moment — is in order for this project to take a deep breath of sorts and allow time for our board to commission a forensic audit. This breather and audit will provide the public the needed assurance that cost overruns are not going to be in the project’s future.
The Star-Advertiser has noted that state Auditor Les Kondo’s red flags regarding the types of expenses that are reimbursable to HART under the bailout law, Act 1, have already led to disagreement between city and state officials on some basic accounting methods, a sure precursor to future trouble.
A forensic audit would allay public fears and put the project in a position that engenders public trust. To proceed without trust, at this point, is unacceptable. Voters need an opportunity to revisit the project now that accurate information is available. A clear-eyed look and another referendum would provide that “trust” in the citizens who must pay the vast majority of the funds.
The runaway cost of the project and its looming operating costs are taking all the oxygen out of the room — and is hampering the ability to make road repairs on Oahu’s many potholes, is making it more difficult to address our many homelessness issues, and is proving soon to be a weight on the ability to provide adequate police protection.
When circumstances change, we are obligated as representatives of the public to explore all viable options and proceed appropriately. As HART directors, we are obligated to fulfill a sworn obligation.
It’s the best course for Hawaii and its people. It’s a course built on trust.
I have requested that this matter be placed on HART’s board agenda and encourage public testimony.