Hawaii state legislators have called a special session to discuss a bill that could fully fund a long-running, $9.5 billion commuter rail project, which is only 50% complete and faces a $3 billion funding gap, according to the Associated Press via WTOP.
If lawmakers can't agree on financing by Sept. 15, the federal government could call on Hawaii to return more than $800 million in grant money and would likely withhold an additional $700 million in expected funding. Rail costs are currently around $10,000 per person.
Proponents of the rail say it will connect the western Honolulu suburbs with the city, but critics say its expected ridership does not justify the expense and that the rail itself won't do much to reduce traffic. The rail could use up funds that would otherwise go to bus service or other programs, some transit experts say.
It's been more than a year since the chairman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation resigned amid allegations of mismanagement of the then–$6.5 billion project. Don Horner, former chairman, and former executive director Dan Grabauskas both resigned after a city audit raised questions about the rail's finances and revealed insufficient cost records, budget overruns and an inadequate rail operation and maintenance plan, according to Hawaii News Now.
A failed rail line would jeopardize plans for the transit-oriented developments (TOD) that are being built or planned around future stations. That includes the $700 million Manaolana Place mixed-use high-rise — Hawaii's first-ever TOD. The project, located near the Hawaii Convention Center, won approval from the Honolulu City Council last fall after developers pledged to either include below-market-priced units in the high-end building or pay $3 million into a city housing fund.
TODs are high-density projects with access to public transportation. They can be residential or office-based, as well as centered around a sports venue or other feature that draws traffic, and typically include retail and dining options to serve the people that live and work there. TODs can also be connected via public transit to other TODs to provide a full range of social and economic opportunities.