The new plan for the city’s troubled rail project would stop construction two stations short near the Circuit Court at South and Halekauwila streets in Kakaako and still receive the federal government’s final share of $1.55 billion in funding, or $744 million.
If approved, the so-called full-funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration would be amended in a new plan due to the FTA on June 30 to require construction only to a Civic Center station in Kakaako.
The original plan envisioned in 2012 was to build a 20-mile, 21-station route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana.
If approved by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s board of directors, the City Council and the FTA, HART’s updated June 30 “recovery plan” would require only 19 stations and 18.75 miles of track, Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced Tuesday in his State of the City address.
“Facing a history of cost overruns, an inadequate budget and delayed construction timetables, including a disillusioned public, and our weary and concerned partner, the Federal Transit Administration, our first order of business was to regroup the team of city leaders and key principals overseeing the construction and ultimately the operations of the rail, a team that had all but quit working together during HART’s time spent pursuing a public-private partnership,” Blangiardi said.
The goal then will be to find new sources of revenue to finish the 1.25-mile gap to Ala Moana Center, Lori Kahikina, HART CEO and executive director, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Tuesday.
Construction is currently estimated to cost $11.1 billion to get to Ala Moana, with a $1.3 billion deficit.
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But to build to Kakaako, Kahikina said, “we believe we have the funds.”
She was in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday after her first face-to-face meeting with FTA officials, including agency Administrator Nuria Fernandez.
The Hawaii contingent that met at different times with the FTA on Friday included Blangiardi and Roger Morton, a member of the HART board and director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, which will run the rail system once it is built.
Kahikina’s trip included separate meetings with three members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation and the chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele.
The idea to pitch a truncated route to the FTA ending at the Civic Center station — and still fulfill HART’s federal obligation — came about “very recently,” Kahikina said.
“It was, ‘OK, mayor, we’re tweaking the numbers as best we can,’” she said.
There was no commitment from the FTA during her meeting, Kahikina said.
“The message was, ‘Turn in your recovery plan.’ In that meeting they would not commit to anything. They stressed, ‘Do not miss the June 30 deadline.’”
She called her meeting with FTA officials “very positive. … We worked hard to mend relationships, because I don’t think there was a good relationship prior.”
Kahikina also said two separate problems with mismatched wheels and track appear to have solutions.
Two specialized manganese welders from the mainland have been in town for less than two weeks and have built up “double crossover” frogs where the trains cross tracks to fill a half-inch gap between too-small wheels, she said.
Wider wheels are still being designed and are expected to be installed on one train in July for further testing.
A separate problem of too-narrow track near the frog crossings appears to have been solved by unbolting the track and moving it over where the track is too tight by one-sixteenth of an inch, Kahikina said.
Four more frogs have to undergo welding, and more track needs to be unbolted and moved, but “East Kapolei is repaired,” she said. “The issues are completely separate, but East Kapolei is completely done with both issues.”
While in Washington, Kahikina also attended the American Public Transportation Association conference, where she said the heads of other U.S. rail systems assured her that HART’s problems are similar to theirs.
“Talking to the other CEOs of other systems, what I’m facing is not unusual,” she said. “These projects are so complex, and we all face funding and cost challenges and supply and worker availability issues. They said, ‘You’re not alone. Once you get up and running, the sentiment will change.’”
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