WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's Congressional delegation, top U.S. transportation officials and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle signed a funding agreement Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol that guarantees the federal government with provide Honolulu with $1.55 billion in funds for its rail transit project.
Among those in attendance was Irene Inouye, the widow of Sen. Dan Inouye, a champion of the rail project who died on Monday.
"Though, sadly, Senator Inouye cannot be here with us today, this agreement is a testament to his tireless advocacy on behalf of his state and its people," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"This is big, this is huge," Lahood told reporters at a ceremony held in the Senate Appropriations Committee room where Inouye presided over the committee until his death this week. Inouye's gavel remained at his chair, as well as a kukui nut lei and a bouquet of white roses in remembrance.
The agreement is similar to a contract, guaranteeing the federal portion of funding for the 20-mile, 21-station rail project, which will cost about $5.2 billion. The city is funding the largest share of the cost from increased excise taxes paid by people on Oahu.
Dan Grabauskas, CEO of the city's Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said, "We intend to honor his (Inouye's) legacy," by keeping the project on time and on budget.
Inouye's staffers wiped away tears as speaker after speaker spoke of Inouye's devotion to rail and of the bittersweet nature of the event, since it was held just days after his death.
Even with looming federal budget cuts, officials said Honolulu can expect all of the federal funding coming over the next several years. The federal government never has gone back on similar full funding agreements with other counties, cities and states in the past, officials said.