HART Board: State Legislature Needs to Authorize Funding for Rail

Aug 17, 2017

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Board of Directors meeting.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The 10-member board overseeing the Honolulu Rail Project met today to consider actions it needs to take following a public information hearing Monday on additional funding for the 8.2 billion dollar project.   HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Board of Directors would like members of the State Legislature to know that funding for the last segment of the rail transit project rests in their hands.  HART Board member, Glenn Nohara.

“One legislator asked, what is our option if the legislature did nothing.  In our recovery plan we do actually mention a plan B.  Plan B takes us to downtown.  Downtown was assuming $6.8 billion but if we have to give back what the Feds already gave us, then how far does that take us?  Like in any business, we need to assume the worst.”

The Legislature will convene in special session August 28 to attempt to resolve HART’s 2-3 billion dollar funding shortfall.  But, HART Project Director, Sam Carnaggio, says Plan B has already been rejected by the Federal Transit Administration, the FTA.

“The option B that we spoke about goes to downtown, has no contingency; has no stations in between Middle Street and downtown.  Those stations are all deferred.  You just have the guideway.  And you also don’t have the transit center.  And FTA has indicated that they would not accept that.”

HART Board Vice Chair, Terrence Lee, says lawmakers and the public should be informed about the consequences of doing nothing to fund the last 4.2 mile, 8-station City Center segment.

“If we don’t get additional funding from the legislature, then it’s likely the alternative options that we would pursue would be unacceptable for the FTA; we would lose the $1.55 billion and then, with the remaining money that we have just from the GET surcharge, what can we accomplish?  And I think the legislature would like to know that.”

Meanwhile, HART funding from the general excise tax half-a-percentage point surcharge is 64 million dollars less than forecast.  HART Chief Financial Officer, Robert Yu, also says HART’s Plan Bs are also short on funding.

“I know we talked about, well, we have enough money to go to Middle Street or Aloha Tower without all the stations.  But it’s all contingent on the FTA releasing the $744 million of additional grant money.”

The HART Board also supported the Honolulu City Council’s call for a financial and performance audit of HART’s construction expenditures.  Councilmember Trevor Ozawa, who introduced the resolution, told board members the public has a right to know.

“I just want to provide a little more peace of mind to the taxpayers who are the financers and shareholders of this project.  I think, ultimately, the cost of this project was just underestimated and I think a number of factors have increased that by millions.  But if any part of this process reveals any sort of malfeasance or nefarious activity, let’s take the forensic audit to the next level.  To the full extent of the law.”

But, Board member, John Henry Felix, says HART is responsible and repeated his call for a forensic audit.

“I endorse this resolution and applaud Ozawa’s initiative.  But I still feel that this body should consider and call for our own forensic audit in the discharge of our fiduciary responsibilities.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.