City Council keeps rail project alive by allowing HART to issue bonds

Published: Jun. 7, 2017 at 10:43 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2017 at 10:38 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city's controversial rail project survived a crucial vote Wednesday at Honolulu Hale -- one that could have shut down all construction and operations within a couple months.

HART says the $10 billion project will run out of funds by January unless its allowed to borrow money quickly. Rail officials told the City Council if they are unable to issue bonds, they will be forced to begin shutting down the project starting August.

"We will not be able to pay all our existing contracts and the staff, so we would be getting into some kind of a close out operations mode," said HART Executive Director and CEO Krishniah Murthy.

The council approved the proposal by a vote of 6 to 3, allowing HART to issue the $350 million in bonds it says it need to ensure there is enough cash to pay for construction.

Those who voted against the measure say it's unfair to force constituents to cosign a loan for rail.

"How many more projects in my district is gonna suffer as a result of us lending out $350 million in bonds? Substantially more," said Councilman Ernie Martin.

Supporters are pushing to finish the project saying it would cost more than $2 billion to scrap it completely.

"In return for that more than $2 billion investment, what do we receive, what do our taxpayers receive? Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing as we are forced to shut the project down," said Councilman Ikaika Anderson.

The measure needed the six yes votes to pass. Councilman Trevor Ozawa -- who was the swing vote -- said the alternatives are far worse and he refuses to raise property taxes.

Ozawa's vote is key because the project is not in the clear yet. HART will need another six votes in July to finalize the borrowing.

Meanwhile, a plan for how to pay for the whole system is still up in the air. It will depend on what the legislature decides to do. Federal funding is also in limbo as the Federal Transit Administration awaits the city's funding plan.

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