Mayor: Honolulu rail project to open 8 years late, cost more

HONOLULU — Honolulu’s rail project will cost over $1 billion more than expected a month ago and won’t be completed until eight years after the state had initially scheduled, according to estimates sent by Mayor Kirk Caldwell to the Federal Transit Administration.

The estimates sent last Friday are $1.1 billion higher than estimates from October, when staff at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation increased the project’s evaluation from $8.3 billion to $9.1 billion. Friday’s estimate projects a total cost of $10.2 billion, not including about $1 billion in financing cost.

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The state now projects the rail line will be completed in 2033 after originally estimating an opening in 2025.

Caldwell’s seven-page letter asked the FTA to give the city another year to come up with a financing plan before the agency decides to cut the city off from $250 million in federal grant money that is set to expire at the end of the year.

The $250 million is part of a $744 million allotment in promised funding FTA officials have been withholding until they are content with the city’s financing plan, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The FTA had first agreed to fund $1.55 billion for the then-$5.3 billion project. The plan was contingent upon the city building a 20-mile (32-kilometer) line with 21 stations from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

But it has become clear that the state’s projected revenue will not permit the city to fully pay off the costs for the project.

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Caldwell said that the projections laid out in his letter were made “without the benefit of the technical expertise and the detailed cost information that is available at HART.” While the letter was co-signed by Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Chairman Tobias Martyn and City Council Budget Chairman Joey Manahan, HART CEO and Executive Director Andrew Robbins was not on board.

The Star-Advertiser reported that Robbins has disagreed with Caldwell, Manahan and a majority of the HART’s board over how the project should proceed. Robbins’ contract with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation expires at the end of the year, and the Star-Advertiser reported that there are indications the board will not renew it.

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