Column: HART committed to finish 20-mile rail
In recent weeks, there have been several headlines concerning Honolulu’s rail project.
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In recent weeks, there have been several headlines concerning Honolulu’s rail project. Many of these, including the news of audits and the federal subpoenas for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to turn over documents, relate to pre-issues prior to 2017. Because since 2017, the HART staff has been managing the project more effectively. In fact the project budget of $8.165 billion (excluding finance costs) and the schedule of completing rail by 2025 hasn’t moved at all. HART is also preparing to open the first 10 miles and nine stations for passenger service in late 2020.
HART continues to be committed to transparency as we work to finish this project in a responsible manner. HART continues to discuss project issues in public at its board meetings. HART recently reported on a safety stand-down that HART itself issued to ensure that a proper safety culture was in place. HART also reported on deficiencies found in train-car fire testing. Both issues demonstrate HART’s commitment to holding our contractors and suppliers responsible, and above all, assuring public safety. Safety is our top priority. Surely more issues will crop up as we proceed with testing and commissioning, and HART will address and solve each one.
I continue to be proud of the efforts of the men and women of HART, our contractors, consultants and laborers as they solve problems every day, make progress, and strive for continuous improvement.
HART knows that elected officials, the public at large, and especially residents on the west side support the completion of the rail system to Ala Moana. HART is committed and mandated to carry this out. There have been renewed calls to stop the rail project at Middle Street or to “pause.” Critics of the rail system say this will save hundreds of millions of dollars and rail can then easily be replaced by buses departing from Middle Street into town.
But stopping at Middle Street will save little if any money and will cause the city to be in default of its obligations to the federal government under the project’s Full Funding Grant Agreement. This will require HART and the city to return more than $800 million. That would mean more local borrowing and associated interest payments along with other consequences of such a default.
The road system at Middle Street is not set up for the inward and outward flow of the large number of buses that would be needed to make this a permanent terminus of the rail system.
Stopping short at Middle Street will also negate serving the Dillingham corridor, Downtown and Chinatown, the Kakaako area and the rapidly-developing area at Kapiolani Boulevard and Keeaumoku Street.
The rail system will also be much farther away from serving University of Hawaii-Manoa and Waikiki. Stopping at Middle Street is not what was promised as the project’s “minimum operable segment” approved by the City Council in the mid-2000s.
And a “pause” is a delay, and delays result in significant cost increases.
The rail project is now fully funded to allow completion to Ala Moana as a result of the actions of the state and the city in 2017. We are working closely with our federal partners to gain full approval of the recovery plan and to resume the flow of congressionally-committed federal funding to the project.
HART has a robust plan to complete the project and has been operating to a fixed budget and schedule since January 2017.
HART and the city are working effectively together to complete the City Center portion under a P3 procurement model, and are prepped for the start of passenger operations from Kapolei to Aloha Stadium by the end of 2020. And five years later, we’ll be taking still more passengers all the way to the Ala Moana Center station.
Andrew Robbins is executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.