Stopping rail at Middle Street would hurt ridership, but by how much?

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On Thursday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he wants to stop the rail line at Middle Street, at least for now.

We wanted to know, how would this impact ridership, operating costs, and traffic?

When it comes down to ridership numbers, officials say that’s something we’ll only find out down the road, and even if we did get new numbers, they’d just be estimates.

When the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation started building rail, it estimated 119,582 people would ride the public transportation system from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center by the year 2030.

But if the project stops at Middle Street, eight stops short of the original plan, what happens then?

“We are going to have to adjust, but again as I say, I wouldn’t want to be premature because exactly when does the project start to operate is something that a decision has not been made on yet,” said Caldwell.

On Thursday, we told you that the city and HART officials have to build what they can with the money they have: $6.8 billion dollars. The mayor asked HART members to consider shortening the route to 15 miles instead of 20.

“We underestimated the cost by a lot,” Caldwell said.

The Federal Transit Administration wants to see a recovery plan by Aug. 7, after a risk report revealed that the total cost of the project would be $8 billion with an estimated completion date of 2024.

“I wish I could just divine it and get it to fall out of the sky, but we have two sources only and we are restricted by law from using any others,” Caldwell said.

We looked at HART’s ridership estimates and if you eliminate eight stations, the ridership would be reduced by 47,916 daily boardings.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine is requesting an analysis of ridership numbers to see what the impact will be if stations closer to each other are eliminated instead of stopping at Middle Street.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook. They want someone to fight for the west side, and they want the HART board as well as the city council as well as the mayor to come up better options,” she said. “People won’t get on on my side of the island just to go to Middle Street.”

It’s still not clear when HART will hold a public hearing to discuss this issue, but HART board chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa says stopping at Middle Street for now is the most logical option.

“For this particular situation, you have to tell us how you’re going to build to budget, because what is at stake is the $1.55 billion that the FTA has contributed to the project,” she said.

The FTA wants the rail project to be completed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We asked Hanabusa if she believes the city and HART can come up with the recovery plan by August, and she says they have started the process.

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