Lingering funding concerns overshadow first test of rail on tracks

Lingering funding concerns overshadow first test of rail cars on tracks
Published: May. 30, 2017 at 4:50 PM HST|Updated: May. 30, 2017 at 7:38 PM HST
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WAIPAHU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It was a moment nearly a decade in the making. On Tuesday, the first rail cars slowly made their way across the elevated guide way in Waipahu.

"For engineers this is a great day," Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Interim Executive Director Krishniah Murthy said.

Rail officials say the track will be energized by mid-summer, allowing trains to move on their own.

"We'll be testing the trains for speed, braking, door opening, communication all of that," said Murthy.

But the celebration of the milestone was overshadowed by the project's ongoing uncertainty.

There's still no plan on how to cover the project's nearly $2 billion shortfall.

In early May, state lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session without reaching a deal on how to fund the nearly $10 billion project.

Meanwhile, the city filed its recovery plan with the Federal Transit Administration -- reinforcing it's goal to complete the 20-mile project to Ala Moana Center.

"As we get later into the summer we'll get closer to hearing a response from the FTA, which may not be a positive one," Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. "That's why it's very critical at this point that we start to really focus on whether we're going to go into special session. What kind of agreement we're going to reach."

During a news conference, Caldwell backed a Senate plan to extend the county surcharge on the general excise tax.

"For the most part, people don't come up to me and say, 'Mayo,  I just bought something. Here is my receipt and I just paid half a percent. I'm really mad,'" Caldwell said. "But I can promise you everyone comes up to me after this last session saying, 'Mayor, please don't raise our real property taxes on top of paying the GET.'"

The mayor said he has been in communication with members of the legislature, but doesn't see them moving closer to an agreement which means a special session isn't likely to happen any time soon.

Some legislators told Hawaii News Now a special session could be a month away, and it will only happen if everyone agrees to a financing plan.

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