HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell describes HART's official audit as unsurprising. He says one of the biggest challenges the city needs to overcome is the apparent lack of trust over not just what rail officials report, but when.
"I think there's been a lack of the transparency that's needed and I think that would -- if they were to share information as numbers change in real time -- I think that would have alleviated some of the problems we're facing today," said Caldwell, who admits he believes the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's rail project will only get more expensive and likely further behind schedule.
"Now they're saying 2022. I'm thinking it's going to be 2024," said Caldwell, before adding any discussion of walking away from the project or scaling back the route is out of the question.
"In exchange for getting $1.55 billion we promised our partner the federal government that we'd build 20 miles -- so I'm strongly, I'm not backing one inch from the 20 miles," said Caldwell.
The Mayor says he understands the public's growing distrust of rail's rising costs, but denies ever misrepresenting estimates -- saying he relied on HART figures.
"As mayor and truly as the authority ultimately over this project, are you saying then that you were lied to?" Hawaii News Now asked.
"I'm saying that as mayor, it's a city project being built by a semi-autonomous agency and I'm demanding now that if they know things, they need to share with the public -- that includes me and the Council," Caldwell replied.
Political analysts say it's time for the Mayor to take greater ownership of his role in the project he has staunchly supported from the beginning.
"What I don't hear from anyone -- either on the HART board or the mayor's office or in the city council -- is someone who will say or admit that we've made some mistakes, this is how we're going to correct them and this is how we're going to finish this project," said Professor Colin Moore, the director of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Center for Public Policy.
Caldwell says his job is to ensure HART board members are holding rail executives responsible.
"They don't want a promise given that's then not delivered on. I've stopped making those promises long ago, but now what I'm promising is to demand from my board appointees -- and hopefully they take it to the rest of the board -- that they make sure HART is delivering realistic numbers in real time as they find out and not holding things back," said Caldwell.
Caldwell says the next challenge will be to see what HART does with the audit. He's called for the board to review the findings line-by-line with rail executives to address the top concerns and come up with solutions.