New cuts considered to keep rail project afloat on constricted budget

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What would Honolulu’s rail project look like if it was built within budget?

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation presented its board with different scenarios Wednesday.

Rail is expected to cost nearly $8 billion and could have a deficit of $1.1 billion. After consulting with the federal government, HART learned without more funds, it needs to consider options for construction with the expected revenue.

Here are the options that are being looked at:

  • Build to Middle Street as planned, and build the guideway only to Ala Moana;
  • Build to Middle Street as planned and continue with bus service;
  • Build to Middle Street as planned and continue with at grade, or light rail, system;
  • Construct as far as funding allows, what they call an a la carte evaluation;
  • Public-private partnership solicitations for all of the rail stations; or
  • Change the route from Dillingham Boulevard to Nimitz Highway.

“Cost would potentially be less because of fewer stations and possibly less utilities,” said Brennon Morioka, HART deputy executive director.

HART board members had many questions about escalating costs.

“The board should hear it before the public hears it. Tell us, how does that happen? How does that happen that we’re always chasing numbers?” asked Mike Formby, HART board member.

“I have not seen escalation increases this fast before,” Morioka said.

“One year ago when we went to the state Legislature, the number we’re asking for is $910 million and just five months later, it was a higher number, and now it’s a higher number,” said Ivan Lui-Kwan, HART board member.

The public was also invited to speak.

“They’re not going to want to get on a bus to get to rail to get back on another bus when they can just stay on the bus,” said testifier Barbra Armentrout.

“The other thing we need to remember with respect to this is that we’re paying this with a tax on food, rent and medical services,” said testifier Natalie Iwasa.

“We can’t afford this thing,” another person testified.

HART will take this feedback and share it with the mayor’s office and the city council, and refine the cost of the program the board chooses.

A working group will also be formed.

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