Column: With FTA nod, rail makes real progress
I often like to speak about HART’s Big 3 near-term objectives in moving forward with the Honolulu rail project.
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I often like to speak about HART’s Big 3 near-term objectives in moving forward with the Honolulu rail project. First is Federal Transit Administration approval of the recovery plan. Second is successful completion of the City Center/Pearl Highlands “P3” procurement, the last major segment of the project’s implementation. And third is the beginning of passenger service for the first 10 miles later next year.
So, I was very pleased and excited that on Sept. 5, HART (Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation) was notified by the FTA that our revised recovery plan was approved. This culminated some three years of work and lifted the project out of an uncertain state with our federal partners. FTA approval provides HART a clear path now to resume the drawdown of federal funding, and most importantly, to complete the rail all the way to Ala Moana Center.
The FTA noted the significant improvement in the recovery plan through its iterations, a reflection of the hard work of staffers and consultants at HART and at the city. Thanks also to the HART board and elected officials who did heavy lifting in reviewing, approving and putting into motion the necessary steps to satisfy all of the FTA’s concerns. This was truly a team effort and a strong showing of local support for this project.
This past week, FTA held a meeting in Honolulu with HART and the city Department of Transportation Services — and I could not have wished for a better outcome. The interaction among all parties was open and honest. We welcomed members of the HART board, and representatives from the mayor’s and City Council- members’ offices.
After the meeting, FTA Regional Administrator Ray Tellis noted that he was extremely impressed with HART and that “you have come a long way and are operating at a level that is pretty darn impressive.”
He further reminded us that the next big step is the successful conclusion of the P3 (public-private partnership) procurement. Tellis also was extremely impressed when he visited the Rail Operations Center and witnessed trains moving in driverless mode around the yard. This added to his confidence that Hitachi was on a successful course for completion of its work, and that HART and DTS were properly preparing for our first passenger service over the 10 miles between Aloha Stadium and Kapolei late next year.
The rail project will, of course, continue to have challenges and problems to solve. HART is well on its way to getting the West Station canopy issues resolved and getting these elements installed in the stations. This was a good example of being transparent about a significant issue and pulling together to solve problems.
Another challenge is the City Center utilities work: HART is finalizing implementation plans and schedule. HART also plans to go out to the community to talk to stakeholders so that businesses and residents in the corridor know what to expect from the construction work and eventually realize all the benefits that rail will bring.
For the past three months, HART has held town hall meetings around the island, all very well-attended. It has been very satisfying personally to meet with and engage the community, and to be joined by other senior-level HART and city personnel. We are presenting a lot of information about the project, not all of which gets news coverage. More importantly, we are answering the many good questions people have. People want to know about safety and security. They ask about what’s going to happen if a train breaks down or the power goes out. They ask about accommodations for folks with disabilities. And they are happy to learn how we are working on and addressing the concerns.
The HART project team is on a noble mission to effectively manage and complete Honolulu’s rail transit project in a most professional manner, and will keep working together toward our common goals.
Andrew Robbins is executive director/CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.