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Honolulu mayor raises doubt about rail reaching Ala Moana

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                                Mayor Rick Blangiardi speaks at a news conference on April 5 in Honolulu.


    Mayor Rick Blangiardi speaks at a news conference on April 5 in Honolulu.

Honolulu rail system may not continue to Ala Moana Center as originally planned, Mayor Rick Blangiardi said today.

Speaking on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii live-stream show this morning, the mayor also said he would like to get rid of the current tier-system used as the framework for Oahu’s economic reopening.

The rail project is facing a $3.5 billion hole in its budget to operate on the full 20-mile route from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center by 2031.

Blangiardi said he is planning on meeting with the Federal Transit Authority in July or August to show updated plans for the project to recognize the funding gap.

However, that could mean not continuing to Ala Moana Center.

“Ala Moana was a predetermined destination some 15 years ago … and that was all well and good at the time … What’s happened in the meantime is we have a project that’s not only billions of dollars over budget, years delayed, but it’s proven to be a real challenge to even construct,” Blangiardi said.

“When I go to the FTA, it’s going to be with them on where we think we can get, how far we can build it. Whether or not Ala Moana is in their offering? I don’t know.”

The administration is looking at funding opportunities, but having less revenue from the General Excise Tax and Transient Accommodations Tax due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not helped the situation.

“We owe it to the public given the incredible investment has been made to build the best rail possible,” Blangiardi said. “But these are very real economic factors, so this notion of how far can we take the rail? You know, building to Ala Moana is almost out of context with the reality that we’re in.”

However, Blangiardi said his administration has improved on the fractured relationship between HART and Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“The open rift that this office had with HART was so dysfunctional and we’ve worked really hard not to create that,” he said.

He said he was optimistic about the collaborative nature between his office, the City Council and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim CEO Lori Kahikina.

“I feel very comfortable in our daily conversations in all of our combined efforts to problem solve.”

On the city’s tier system, Blangiardi is considering abolishing the tiered reopening system metrics to instead be dictated by deaths and hospitalizations rather than daily case counts if one million people are vaccinated. He explained that when the tier system was created, it did not take into account vaccines being widely available until the fall of 2021. However, vaccines are now available to everyone over the age of 16.

“It really doesn’t have any validity against the vaccinated population,” he said.

Blangiardi assured that even if the tier system is abolished, Honolulu would still maintain best practices to ensure the health and safety of residents.

The exemption from Governor David Ige that allowed Honolulu to stay in Tier 3 of the reopening plan despite daily case counts surpassing the specified limit of 50 cases a day expires on May 7. Blangiardi plans to ask Ige to approve a permanent modification to Tier 3 to allow between 50 and 100, possibly 120 average new daily cases over a two week period. He is also putting in a proposal to restart road races and swim meets as well as considering allowing attendance at public venues with proper social distancing

“If we could do that, and we get to a million people to get vaccines, I would actually try to move to abolishing the tier structure,” he said.

“I think it’s creating some confusion in the minds of some people on the ability to go forward.”

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