Oahu rail project board names new chair

Honolulu rail project faces new leadership (6:30a)
Updated: Nov. 10, 2016 at 2:12 PM HST
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Newly elected U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Newly elected U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The new chairman of the board that oversees Oahu's embattled rail project is Damien Kim, a City Council appointee.

Kim, who was selected to head up by his fellow board members, is business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1186, and has been a licensed journeyman electrician for more than 20 years.

The choice marks the third time in just the past year that a new person has taken over this role for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board.

Meanwhile, mayoral appointee Glenn Nohara, an engineer and licensed general contractor is filling the seat left empty by Colleen Hanabusa, who was recently elected to Congress.

Hanabusa's exit comes at a time of significant change for HART. Earlier this week, interim executive director Mike Formby, who also served as the director of the city's Department of Transportation Services, left both the city and HART.

Former CEO and Executive Director Dan Grabauskas, who was with the project from the very beginning, resigned in August after intense scrutiny and criticism about rising costs. Formby stepped in to take control, but stepped down earlier this week. His replacement, Krishniah Murthy, will take the reigns in December for a year while officials seek a permanent executive director.

Formby and Hanabusa were seen as strong advocates who could help reform the over-budget and over-deadline project with tough budget questions and stricter overall oversight of the agency to help bring Honolulu's rail back on track.

The latest official estimate puts the project's total price tag at $8.6 billion, but HART faces a deficit of at least $1.8 billion and the question officials will try to answer at Thursday's board meeting is how to close that budget gap. One idea that's been floated around for some time is to make the rail tax permanent.

Back in January, the Honolulu City Council approved a rail tax extension for five additional years through 2027, but now there's discussion of making the 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge permanent to ensure the embattled rail project can make it all the way to Ala Moana.

Federal partners have confirmed the full 20-mile, 21-station route will need to be built in order to keep the $1.55 billion HART has already received from the Federal Transit Administration.

Back when the City Council approved the extension earlier this year, they also capped the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's take from the rail tax at $1.1 billion. If the surcharge becomes permanent that cap will have to be lifted.

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