Council members question direction of rail authority - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Council members question direction of rail authority

Ann Kobayashi Ann Kobayashi
Tom Berg Tom Berg
Wayne Yoshioka Wayne Yoshioka
Romy Cachola Romy Cachola

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Planning, awarding contracts and even some construction is already underway for Honolulu's rail transit, but the authority overseeing the project hasn't officially started working and some city leaders are questioning the process.

For now the Honolulu City Council approved the more than $21 million budget for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation or HART.  But before the next vote the council has concerns about that money.

"It sounded like having the authority would be a good thing with not a lot of costs, but now we're finding out its $21 million," said Ann Kobayashi, Honolulu City Councilmember.

"What are they going to be doing, how many people does it take to set the fare to get on that rail," said Tom Berg, Honolulu City Councilmember.

The board will hire an executive director to run the day to day business, most likely someone from the mainland with rail experience.  How much will that person make?

"That hasn't been determined yet," said Wayne Yoshioka, Honolulu Transportation Services Director.

Yoshioka says there will be roughly 136 people hired for HART over the next year.  About 70 of those positions are already working for the city in the Rapid Transit Division, which in July will become part of HART.  Their main job is to make sure the rail stays on track with the programmatic agreement and guidelines.

"As it moves on it will have more staff so that way the budget will be larger for the staff, but we would have incurred that either way with or without the Authority," said Yoshioka.  "As the project moves forward it was always the plan to hire more staff."

"When it comes to planning and everything else we contract it out anyway, so what are they doing?" said Romy Cachola, Honolulu City Councilmember. "They keep adding a number people in and out and its coming from a number of different places and I hope that place is not a dumping ground for some of the employees in the past administration.  We have to look at how they're spending money, how the budget is being made and who is getting this money and do we need them."

"A lot of the city departments have had vacancies for years, many vacancies, but when HART got together, they're fully staffed just about," said Kobayashi.

"So if we're going to have 110 people, are they going to be reading blueprints? Are they engineers? Are they dealing with the sounds and noise and vibrations, dealing with the iwi, what's their expertise? As far as I'm concerned the 110 plus positions predominantly are folks to help pitch and sell this product. They don't have the expertise to help advance the best system for us," said Berg.

Berg claims that goes up to the top with the recently nominated HART board members.

"Of the six names that were advanced I don't think one of them could read a blueprint.  I don't think any of them meet the criteria of which were defined of how you can be on that board," said Berg.

All these concerns and HART doesn't officially start until July.

Voters approved the creation of HART in part to get the projects details out of the hands of politicians.  However the city council has fought to maintain oversight of HART's budget.

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