Rail CEO looks to extend the system — by extending rail surcharge
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Rail ridership plummeted on the first day people had to pay to ride.
On Wednesday, Skyline saw about 1,245 riders, the city reported. That compares to 18,108 on July 4.
Despite the disappointing figures, rail leaders are already looking ahead to expanding the system — with the help of extension of the state rail tax surcharge.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of immediate demands still facing the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, according to CEO Lori Kahikina.
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Kahikina said the next big test will be opening bids next summer from contractors who hope to build the final four miles of guideway and stations from Middle Street to South Street in Kakaako.
That bid will determine if HART can complete the current project within the $9.7 billion estimated price tag.
She said she will also ask bidders to offer their estimate to build all the way to Ala Moana Center — the original final station of the 22 mile system until the city decided to shorten the route to keep it under budget.
Mostly with money from the half percent general excise tax, HART has spent about $5 billion so far to get the first 11 miles up and running, construct most of the way from Pearl Harbor to Middle Street and begin utility work on the final segment to Kakaako.
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But encouraged by the nearly 72,000 riders in the first five days, Kahikina feels emboldened to ask for more — an extension of the excise tax surcharge and hotel tax contribution beyond 2030, when they’re set to expire.
“I always knew when I came in that would be the next big ask but there was no way i could go next door to ask them until I could show them we are a different HART,” Kahikina said.
“And once we get the first segment open, let them get on it, feel it, touch it, maybe we will have their confidence that when I do ask they’ll be more open to it. We need that funding if we can extend that i could get to Ala Moana and possibly I can get to UH.”
Mayor Rick Blangiardi told Hawaii News Now he isn’t quite ready to ask the same funding questions.
“I’m hopeful in the years to come here with the great success of the rail we can engage on how we are going to start to fund the rest of the rail system,” Blangiardi said.
If lawmakers agree to extend the excise and hotel tax contribution, planning could begin sooner, including studying the potential for taking the extended system underground.
Kahikina was the city director of Environmental Services when the city had a contractor drive a three-mile tunnel under Kaneohe and Kailua for wastewater so she’s familiar with modern underground boring technology.
“Maybe we can do underground past Kakaako up to UH or Waikiki. It just depends what we are allowed to do,” Kahikina said.
Setting the dream aside, there is still plenty to do right now — like several unfinished features on the 11 miles already operating and turned over to the city Department of Transportation Services.
For example, in Waipahu, the three-story steel makai entrance to the Waipahu Rail Station remains incomplete and inaccessible, locked with a padlock.
At the Pearl Highlands station, Kahikina said HART hopes for federal money for a pedestrian bridge over Kamehameha Highway to replace makeshift crosswalks.
And at East Kapolei, where hundreds of riders made their own parking lot this weekend, HART plans a real park-n-ride.
But all of those things depend on taxpayer money, which depends on the goodwill of politicians and the public.
Kahikina said she was pleased with this weekend turnout.
“I was very happy and I hope the public was pleased with the experience,” she said.
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