Massive, unresolved rail costs loom despite chair’s resignation


Honolulu’s rail budget has ballooned over the years.

When the project began in 2008, it was estimated at $4 billion. In 2012, that number shot up to $5 billion, and then $5.2 billion two years later.

Currently, the project is $2.5 billion over its original budget at $6.5 billion.

So how realistic is that budget today? Many, including the project’s own federal monitor, expect a lot more surprises ahead.

The price tag and delays expected due to power issues pose what’s being called the biggest risk to the project, and more surprises with property buy-ups along the way have also surfaced.

With Don Horner’s resignation as chair of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s board of directors, will anything change to crack down on the worst of the cost problems?

Utilities, specifically power supply and power lines, have plagued the rail project, but building, design and even new contracts in the trickiest of areas have continued while these question marks remain.

HART had penciled in about $120 million for utility relocations, a number its federal monitor says is not enough and is the biggest risk to the project.

Remaining board members are also wary.

“The city center is going to bring us right where we see the most difficult challenges in terms of utilities,” said board member Colleen Hanabusa.

In his letter calling for Horner’s ouster, Honolulu City Council chair Ernie Martin said another $100 million could pile on moving the lines.

The nightmare above Dillingham Boulevard is among the trouble spots.

“That can throw the timing off,” Hanabusa said. “That can also throw the cost off, because Hawaiian Electric is now asking that the lines actually be undergrounded or moved before construction starts, so those are the things we don’t quite know yet.”

What of the $198 million right-of-way budgeted for buying property as of 2012? Last week, Always Investigating revealed another 100 private properties would be crossed over in any undergrounding of lines. That means more costs and more potential delays.

“It’s more than just digging under and also, we have to realize, I tell people whenever you open that ground, you never know what we’re going to come across, so that’s another problem,” Hanabusa said.

Even before the added easements popped up, HART was gearing up for more spending on things like property negotiators, land lawyers, and more appraisal help, and that’s just for the private-property complications.

Big third-party agreements are up in the air even where they won’t be buying, just using land, including the U.S. Navy, at Aloha Stadium or the University of Hawaii.

Wherever HART and landowners can’t come to an amicable deal, it has to move on to a forced taking called “eminent domain.” Each one of those has to get city council approval first before heading to court.

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