HART Chair: Feds warned of potential $2 billion rail cost overruns in 2014

HART Chair: Feds warned of potential $2 billion rail cost overruns in 2014 10pm
Published: Jun. 17, 2016 at 10:20 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 18, 2016 at 12:51 AM HST
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House Finance Chair Rep. Sylvia Luke (Image: Hawaii News Now)
House Finance Chair Rep. Sylvia Luke (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has learned that in 2014, federal transit officials told rail planners the project could cost as much as $7.6 billion dollars.

But the following year when those planners made their pitch to state lawmakers to extend the half percent rail surcharge, they only asked for enough to cover $6.8 billion.

"What is troubling about that is, why then would the city and HART go in for $910 million more, because at that point in time, you know it's about $2 billion," HART chair Colleen Hanabusa said.

Had the city asked for $2 billion dollars more in 2015 -- and received it -- the project would have enough money today to build all the way to Ala Moana Center and not stop short at Middle Street.

"It's a credibility issue and a truthfulness issue and no matter what number they're giving us, I think they have a big problem in trying to convince the public what is the true number now," said House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke.

"Clearly HART knew and we're assuming that someone in the mayor's office knew or should've have known."

But the Mayor's officer tells us he didn't know, and was only informed about the higher cost estimate this week by Hanabusa.

"It should have been brought to the attention of the board and the mayor and city council that this is what we're talking about," Hanabusa said.

Rail CEO Dan Grabauskas was out of town and unavailable for comment but a spokesperson said the figures, which were available on the project's website, represent a worst-case scenario. He said the Federal Transit Administration back in 2014 thought the costs would more likely be in the $5.1 billion to $5.8 billion range.

"Maybe the fear was that because the amount was so staggering we would have stopped it, but this was the one time the legislature felt that we needed to fill the gap and fill the void where they were short, so this was their one time opportunity for the city and mayor to come to the legislature and make up the difference," said Luke.

A year after that missed opportunity, the project's cost is now hovering around $8 billion dollars, but the city is $1 billion bucks short.

The latest plan is to build the route to Middle Street, then try to find more funding to continue to Ala Moana Center.

City councilmember and rail critic Ann Kobayashi added: "I'm outraged, I'm disgusted. I'm disappointed too. What's next? That's what I'd like to know, what's next?"

The lack of transparency has been a growing frustration with city lawmakers, as the rail project slipped further behind budget and schedule. This and more will likely be considered as Grabauskas undergoes a scheduled job performance review by the rail board.

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