Honolulu’s rail among only a handful of projects under heavy federal scrutiny


As Honolulu races toward a deadline for a new financial plan for rail, KHON2 has learned the project is undergoing a level of scrutiny not many have faced.

For the first time since Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said rail’s initial segment should stop at Middle Street, the Federal Transit Administration is responding.

Honolulu has less than two months to give federal officials the new plan, which is something the feds don’t often require.

The FTA says it’s placed only about 10 major capital projects under Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGAs) under a recovery plan in the past 25 years.

Honolulu’s rail project is one of them.

“Of course we’re disappointed that we have to face this particular circumstance,” said Honolulu City Council chairman Ernie Martin.

Other projects that were under this scrutiny include the metro rail red line in Los Angeles, the MTA Second Avenue Subway in New York, and the BART Rail Extension in San Francisco.

But they were built and completed.

“We can’t speak to other projects, but we have been transparent about our budget shortfall projections, and we are working closely with the FTA to get them the information they require,” Honolulu City spokesman Andrew Pereira said in an email.

“We can benefit from their own experiences as we go forward and present something that’s viable,” Martin said.

The project sponsors changed the scope of the project, for example, the number of miles, stations and rail cars. Those changes were made to accommodate the available funding or changes in circumstances.

When it comes to Honolulu’s rail project, the FTA will consider proposed changes.

“I appreciate the fact that you’re calling this to my attention, because we have a very condensed timeline to respond to the FTA,” Martin said.

We also talked to the governor about the project.

“I believe we need to commit to the full route but we need to manage the cost,” said Gov. David Ige. “In addition, I think the mayor and the council need to look at alternative mechanisms for financing the project.”

“I don’t think anyone has said the Ala Moana line or completing the project as contemplated is not a goal that we are all seeking,” Martin said.

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