Mayor: Shorter rail route could cost taxpayers more in long-run

Mayor: Shorter rail route could cost taxpayers more in long-run

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he welcomes the City Council's decision to cap the rail budget at $6.8 billion, but added an alternative plan to stop the project at Middle Street could wind up costing taxpayers more money than it saves.

"They talked about changing routes, maybe ending short, deferring stations," Caldwell said. "Maybe those things should be looked at but I don't think a decision should be made yet."

Fare revenues will cover about 30 percent of the rail's operating costs and the rest -- about $100 million a year -- is subsidized by the city.

Caldwell said a shortened route means lower ridership, which in turn, forces taxpayers to pick up more of the tab.

"My biggest concern is ridership. As you shorten the route, eliminate stations, you get fewer riders which means you and I subsidize this system at a higher level," he said. "While short-term you may save money by not building more, you're talking about a system that's going to be around 100 years from now."

On Wednesday, the City Council approved the cap, which is $1 billion shy of the newest federal estimate for the project.

The cap was a compromise of sorts; a plan to stop the project at Middle Street was pulled by its author, City Council Chairman Ernie Martin.

Still, rail officials are now being forced to look at these alternatives after the Federal Transit Administration recently upped its cost estimates from $6.8 billion to more than $8 billion.

A study on those alternative routes will be presented to HART's board on Wednesday.

"We're going to present to the board ... a sort of a menu of how much it costs per mile on the guideway, how much each station costs and how much money we think we're going to get from the general excise tax," said Dan Grabauskas, CEO for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

While the FTA has ruled out giving more federal funds, the mayor says he's not giving up yet. He hopes a change of administration or in the leadership in Congress could loosen the purse strings.

"If it's someone like Donald Trump. He's not a strong infrastructure guy. But if its Hillary -- or Sanders gets in -- I think they're much stronger on infrastructure and much stronger on transportation justice," Caldwell said.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.