Andy Robbins, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s CEO, responded Wednesday to the Federal Transit Administration’s concerns over funding for the city rail project.
On Friday, Sept. 21, the FTA sent a letter, estimating that the cost of the project has risen to just under $8.3 billion, $134 million higher than projected. It wrote:
“The HART has not provided the revised Recovery Plan, nor has HART committed to a date by which it will deliver the revised plan.
The FTA has exercised considerable patience since requesting in August 2015 that HART provide additional information about the project budget and schedule in light of then-apparent problems. The FTA repeatedly has highlighted the need for action while working with HART to identify potential solutions. However, HART’s repeated difficulties with identifying cost savings or sufficient funding have led to significant, recurring project schedule delays and cost increases.
… Decisive and expeditious action is needed to prevent further cost escalation.”
The FTA wants to know how HART plans to pay for an additional $134 million in costs added to the project. The FTA says that extra money is needed because the project could be delayed another year.
Federal officials also want to know why the city still has not committed $44 million in funding to the project.
Robbins says HART is on track to meeting those demands. He just returned from the American Public Transportation Association’s annual meeting in Nashville, where he met with the FTA’s top leadership.
“We had a very good meeting. We discussed the letter that they sent me last Friday, and we discussed the details of that letter, and it was interesting, because at the top of the meeting, the acting administrator almost apologized for the tone of the meeting,” Robbins said. “She had seen some of the early media reports and what they conveyed to us is that they were concerned about the schedule and some of the actions that we need to undertake to move the project forward, but they weren’t trying to be threatening in any way. They really want us to understand and convey to us that we needed to take actions, so this gave me a great opportunity to really convey to them the progress that we’ve been making on the project, and they acknowledged that great progress has been made, especially over the last year.”
The FTA also set a deadline of Oct. 21 to learn how HART plans to pay for the last part of the project.
The HART Board of Directors is scheduled to meet on that issue Thursday, and Robbins says a decision will be made then.
“They were very happy to hear that we are reaching a conclusion in that area well within the next 30 days,” Robbins said. “From the letter, they also asked us to finalize an updated financial and recovery plan in the next 60 days, and this is already well within our expectations, aligned with our expectations of when we were going to update the recovery plan and financial plan, so I was able to express that we can meet that requirement as well, and we discussed how they would like to see us proceed.
“I also discussed a message that (City) Council Chair (Ernie) Martin gave me to express to the FTA, that with respect to the $44 milion that the FTA is looking for the city to fund as part of the project, and their expectation being that those funds be committed in the next 60 days, I conveyed to them Chair Martin’s word that he will do what it takes to convene the council, perhaps through a special meeting as necessary so they can meet that 60-day window as well.
“So based on that feedback, the FTA leadership said they are very pleased that we were able to address all their concerns so quickly, and that as long as we follow through on these actions, that in their terms, we will all be in a much better place on this project,” Robbins said.