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$70M in federal COVID-19 funds aimed at rail project

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The city’s troubled rail project is expected to receive a badly needed infusion of $70 million in federal aid from the next round of COVID-19 federal stimulus that’s expected to be approved this weekend.

The money is intended to make up for some of the city’s loss of 2020 tax revenue for rail and is similar to federal aid for a handful of other rail projects around the country, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday.

The money is not earmarked for any specific project for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, “and it doesn’t solve the structural deficit,” Schatz told the Star-Advertiser. “It just gets us out of the 2020 hole.”

Schatz, the new chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, said he worked with House leaders to add the rail infusion for HART as part of the House’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

In a statement, Schatz said, “Our goal here was to help the City pay for part of its share by covering the loss in local tax revenue caused by the pandemic. This provides some relief, but HART and the City must still come up with a workable financial plan and get this project up and running for the people of Honolulu.”

Lori Kahikina, HART’s interim executive director and CEO, called the $70 million “critical” and said it “will enable HART to continue working toward its critical path construction goals. We are very appreciative of the work of Senator Schatz in securing these extremely important funds for the rail project.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi said in a statement, “These additional federal funds are extremely important for the rail project. We applaud Senator Schatz and the Hawaii Congressional delegation for the many ways they are helping the people of Hawaii during this challenging time.”

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