Council approves $6.8B cap on rail spending

City Council approves $6.8B cap on rail spending
Published: Jun. 1, 2016 at 8:06 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 2, 2016 at 3:14 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After hours of debate, City Council members agreed Wednesday to cap spending for the Honolulu rail project at $6.8 billion, a total that will likely mean the project's scope will have to be scaled back.

The cap represents Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's latest estimated cost for the project, which currently calls for a 20-mile rail route with 21 stations.

But the figure is much lower than the new estimated price tag from the Federal Transit Administration. FTA officials put the cost of the completed project at more like $8.1 billion.

City Council Chairman Ernie Martin says rail officials need to have a more realistic grasp of the project's costs.

"That's a big discrepancy between those two numbers," Martin said. "How can any member in this particular body put any confidence in the numbers being offered before us?"

The cap, which may force rail officials to alter their plans, came as part of a compromise deal reached Wednesday.

Martin had initially proposed cutting the route, but pulled back the proposal in favor of the cap.

The cap comes after months of hand-wringing over the rail's skyrocketing project costs.

Some council members say the hardest hit will be Leeward Oahu residents.

"It's not about the courage to say no. It's the courage to fight for communities that have been neglected, lied to and disenfranchised and not taken care of for decades,"  Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine said.

When the FTA's new estimate was released in May, HART board Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa acknowledged it may mean a shorter rail route.

"If we change it any way we're going to have to look at ridership numbers," Hanabusa said. "It's not something we can do in isolation."

The current plan calls for a route that connects West Oahu to Ala Moana Center. Some are now calling for the project to instead end at Middle Street to save costs.

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