Uncertainty surrounds $8B Honolulu rail project
- The 20-mile, $8.165 billion Honolulu Rail Transit project is facing several uncertainties as construction heads from the city's outlying areas into its busy core, according to Civil Beat.
- The total cost of the project is in question. Panos Prevedouros, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, estimates that it will cost at least $13 billion. The price tag for the mostly elevated rail line could rise as crews move into the city and navigate unmapped utilities, encounter various types of subsoil, come across potential native burial sites, and possibly damage existing structures as they excavate nearby. In order to provide the public with a rapid rail option and stay within the budget, officials could opt to shorten the system, although Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city is committed to a full system, Hawaii News Now reported.
- City officials are also struggling with how or if they will come up with $44 million in next year's budget toward Honolulu's share of the rail project, a contribution the Federal Transit Administration wants to see. Honolulu officials made their third trip this year to Washington, D.C., according to another Civil Beat report, to discuss the project with the FTA and to reassure the agency that they plan to support the project despite the challenges.
A 2016 city audit report said the project was supposed to cost $5.2 billion and be operational by March 2019. As it stands now, the rail line has exceeded its budget by $3 billion and is running at least six years behind schedule.
The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is also facing cost overruns and schedule delays with its bullet train project, which now has a $77 billion price tag — another demonstration of how risky major transportation projects can be. The projected cost for the high-speed rail line that will eventually connect Southern and Northern California is nearly twice what it was in 2008 when voters approved financing a portion of the project via bond issues. However, like rail officials in Honolulu, the CHSRA continues to push forward despite the naysayers.
What is different about the two projects is that both the chairman and executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) in 2016 resigned after allegations of mismanagement and after a city audit found inadequate records, as well as incomplete system and maintenance plans. While a Los Angeles Times investigation suggested the CHSRA had not been completely honest about the challenges and realities of the rail project, and there have been some staff changes, no one person has been publicly called out yet regarding the project's failures and fired or forced to resign.
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