AASHTO Journal

Honolulu Transit Agency Submits Recovery Plan to FTA on Delayed Rail Project

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit submitted a recovery plan to federal authorities for the delayed and over-budget rail transit system it is building, days after Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed legislation to close a major funding gap for the $9 billion project.

The HART document said it plans to fully open the 20-mile, 21-station system for revenue service on Dec. 31, 2025, using driverless trains on an elevated guideway. They will run from East Kapolei on the west of the island of Oahu to Ala Moana Center in the east, in between offering connections to the Honolulu International Airport, Joint Base Pearl Harbor‐Hickam, Aloha Stadium and downtown Honolulu.

The transit agency operates under a 10-person board that includes Hawaii Department of Transportation Director Ford Fuchigami, plus city and county officials, members appointed by the mayor and city council, and a public member chosen by the board.

capitol0816.jpg"The project has faced numerous challenges since its inception that have resulted in cost increases and schedule delays," HART said in its Sept. 15 report to the Federal Transit Administration, which awarded it a $1.55 billion capital construction grant in 2012.

The report said the FTA had disbursed a total of $806 million of that "new starts" grant through July of this year, and that "the remaining $744 million is awaiting FTA award." The transit authority estimates it will get the next FTA increment of about $229 million next July 1, with the FTA disbursing the rest through 2021.

HART originally expected to begin operating the rail transit line in 2020, at an estimated cost of $5 billion, according to the document's timeline. Now it puts the construction costs at nearly $8.2 billion and estimates about $860 in finance costs unless it can find private investors to participate in a partnership.

But HART still aims for a first-phase "interim opening" of nine stations in 2020, which would represent about half of the system mileage. Another phase could potentially open "near 2023," it said, before the final phase opens at the end of 2025.

It said the system is now 38 percent built, but that with the new funding legislation "HART is able to confirm that it has the resources to complete" the project as described in its FTA grant accord.

To reach that point, the Legislature in a recent special session voted for a reported $2.4 billion funding package. It would extend by three years, to 2030, an Oahu general excise tax surcharge the island was tapping to help fund the HART system, and to raise the statewide tax on hotel occupancy by 1 point to 10.25 percent for the next 13 years.      

The governor signed it into law Sept. 5, saying: "This is a strategic investment in Hawaii's future. We must move this forward and complete this project."      

And on Sept. 18, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said that with the new funding and a recovery plan in place "there is no alternative on the horizon that will provide transportation equity to the tens of thousands of families who will use rail every day to get into town quickly and easily, without giving up a large portion of their lives."

Caldwell added: "Doing nothing is unacceptable, and although construction of the rail project has been a challenge, it will provide opportunities for affordable housing and transit-oriented development that would not exist without it."

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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