HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new "worst-case scenario" report estimates rail costs could near $11 billion dollars, but the HART Board Chair says the latest figure only matters if the community and elected officials want to pursue more funding for the project to ensure it can run from Kapolei to Ala Moana.
Earlier this month, city council members voted to cap spending for rail at $6.8 billion. A few weeks later, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation released its latest estimate for the total cost at $7.9 billion. However, the Federal Transit Administration believes the price tag will be closer to $8.1 billion.
Now a new report issued by Jacobs Engineering Group, the Project Management Oversight Contractor (PMOC) used a statistical model to determine that if rail runs all 20-miles, as it was initially intended, it could cost as much as $10.8 billion.
"People might not like what they're hearing. I don't like what I'm hearing. I don't like what I'm reading -- but not withstanding that, the project has started and we have an obligation to complete this project to the best that we can," said HART Board Chair Colleen Hanabusa.\
Both HART board members and urban planning officials agree that with a project this size -- there will be setbacks and cost overruns.
"The original plans have gone awry, and so it's really important that we do what we refer to as a mid-course correction. I think we need to reset this to come up with alternative plans to go through a process to ensure that the benefits of this important project really outweigh the costs," explained Karl Kim, a professor in the Department Urban Planning at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
Right now, Hanabusa says rail officials are operating under the assumption they'll only have the $6.8 billion the Honolulu city council has budgeted.
"The reality is this is the money, so how do we get to the best point that we can get to? Who knows -- maybe it is Middle Street or maybe it's to Downtown or somewhere else," said Hanabusa.
Urban development planners say because of the way rail is being funded through a tax extension, it should be treated like a public investment.
"We're taxing food and clothing and medicine and all this stuff to pay for this system and so the least we can do is ensure that this system serves the people and serves our community," said Kim.
Hanabusa, who grew up in Waianae, says it's important to remember the purpose of rail.
"It provides an alternative method for us to have transportation without sitting in traffic for as long as we do," said Hanabusa.
With 370 columns already built and billions already spent, urban planners say there's no turning back. Instead, it's time for the community to decide what kind of rail project they want.
"The headline is we got to make rail work. We got to make rail work right," said Kim.
Two years ago, a risk assessment report came up with a worst-case scenario figure of $7.59 billion for rail.
That estimate is now pretty close to HART's current projected cost, which is why officials say the new figure of 10.8 billion should be taken seriously if they plan to ask for more funding.
"The significance of the $10.79 billion figure is that it is something that decision makers and the people should be aware of, and that model that the FTA came up with for risk was very predictive in 2014," said Hanabusa. "So to the extent that we learn from our mistakes and we also learn with 20/20 hindsight, that's the position that I have. I'm concerned just because of the fact that these numbers have had validity and credibility, but that doesn't mean that's where we're going to be. I'm hoping that as we go along over these years we're getting better at it -- but unfortunately, the figures keep rising."
HART has been asked to present the FTA with a recovery plan which lays out possible alternatives for the project given the expected budget versus the estimated cost. It's due August 7.
"Realistically now, what are our options and what do we want to do to really make this system work? And to me, don't think about this just as a transportation project. Think about this as an opportunity to reshape the urban form of the city. Think about this as an opportunity to make people's lives much better and more convenient and to build opportunities," said Kim. "This is a good time right now to take a pause, figure out what makes the most sense and then design a project that works for all of us."