HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Don Horner, chairman of the board overseeing Oahu's $6.5 billion rail project, has resigned amid growing concerns about cost overruns, mismanagement and long-term system maintenance.
His resignation as chairman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is effective immediately.
"I have accepted his resignation as chairman of the HART board," Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, at a news conference Monday. "I want to thank Don Horner for his years on the HART project."
Caldwell added that he'll begin the search for Horner's replacement immediately.
"For me, it's about looking forward," Caldwell said. "I'm still 100 percent behind this project. It's absolutely worth fighting for. Yes, we'll have problems in the future. We'll have more hurdles, but every one of those efforts is worth it."
Horner is resigning just days after Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin called for HART leadership to step down.
In addition to Horner, Martin said HART Executive Director Dan Grabauskas should resign following a critical city audit that found HART's financial plans aren't reliable, the project costs lack suhporting documentation, and there is no plan for system operation and maintenance.
In a letter to the mayor Monday, Horner said that the HART board "needs an effective and constructive working relationship with both the city administration and the City Council."
He continued: "Hopefully, by my departure, as the Council chair promised, the communications and appreciation for the many accomplishments of the HART staff will indeed strengthen."
Speaking to reporters Monday, Horner said that he resigned because he didn't want to be a distraction to the rail project.
"We have 10 very capable board members left; one less would not jeopardize the project," he said. "I've been very truthful and I stand by my record."
Caldwell appointed Horner, former CEO of First Hawaiian Bank, to a second term on the HART board in 2015. His term as chairman of the board, however, was set to expire on June 30.
The rail project, the priciest public works project in the state's history, has grappled for years with rising costs and management issues. City officials already predict the project's $6.5 billion price tag could grow by up to $800 million.
A city audit, which is still in draft form but that was discussed last week, pointed to new concerns, including a lack of a long-term system maintenance plan.
Martin told Hawaii News Now last week that "nobody's arguing whether the project is a necessity or not. It's a matter of whether we're doing it in a responsible manner."
Grabauskas, HART's executive director, has two years remaining on a three-year contract that pays him a year of severance if he's fire. His annual salary is $257,000.
Grabauskas has declined comment on Martin's calls for his resignation.