Governor Lingle releases financial report on Honolulu rail

A rail system visualization
A rail system visualization
Governor Lingle's Assessment of the rail project
Governor Lingle's Assessment of the rail project
Cliff Slater
Cliff Slater
The numbers were crunched by a non-partisan group
The numbers were crunched by a non-partisan group
Nestor Garcia
Nestor Garcia

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's a reality check for rail. Honolulu's mass transit plan is going to cost a billions of dollars more than initially thought, according to a non-partisan study commissioned by Governor Lingle.

She vowed to double-check the project's true price tag, and those numbers are now in.

The 135-page report challenges the city's numbers for rail.

Honolulu transportation leaders say the project will cost $5.5 billion.

But according to the findings, Honolulu's financial picture is inaccurate.

Let's start with the big number.

$14.5 billion dollars is how much Oahu taxpayers would pitch in over 30 years under the report's worst case scenario. The best case scenario is $9.3 billion.

"We have to reconsider the premise of rail, the cost of rail," said Cliff Slater, who's long opposed rail.

The report adds more weight to his argument, especially since the Lingle Administration says it's an independent team, not a group that's chosen sides, that did the number-crunching.

The State Department of Transportation hired the consultant firm, Infrastructure Management Group (IMG) to conduct the study.

Slater says Hawaii's newly-elected leaders can't ignore facts.

"They're going to have to come to grips with the numbers and disagree with the numbers instead of disagreeing with the personalities of the people who wrote it," said Slater.

Here are the nuts and bolts of the report:

The General Excise Tax (GET), which helps cover the cost of rail, won't be enough. GET revenue could be 30% lower than the city predicts.

IMG says the Honolulu can make up for the shortfall by either raising the tax or extending it for up to 19 years.

"Definitely tax increases. There's no way around that," said Slater.

The report also predicts that ridership and revenue from fares will be lower than the city estimates, and the city will be dangerously in debt.

The study is now sitting on the desks of Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, Honolulu Council Chair Nestor Garcia and governor-elect Neil Abercrombie.

In a statement, Lingle says, "I am confident these officials will appreciate the need to fairly assess the economic impact of this proposed rail project on Hawaii taxpayers today and for generations to come."

"They need to know the truth, the simple plain unvarnished truth," said Slater.

IMG says another money factor to consider is that the rail project will be competing with Honolulu's other large financial obligations, such as unfunded pension, health care liabilities for retirees, and the sewer and wastewater upgrades that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered.

In a statement, Abercrombie's spokesperson said, "Governor-Elect Abercrombie is in Washington, D.C. and is planning to meet with Mayor Carlisle and his team to review the financial report. Governor-Elect Abercrombie's decision on the rail transit system's environmental impact statement will be based on the criteria required by the law."

By law, the Office of Environmental Quality Control has to review the rail's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), then send it to the Governor for approval.

Governor Lingle says she still hasn't received the final version.

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