Critics confront rail leaders on 'unrealistic' ridership, project costs

Rail Transparency Concerns
Published: Jun. 22, 2017 at 10:00 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 23, 2017 at 10:37 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Critics confronted rail authorities at a meeting Thursday, accusing them of inflating ridership projections and limiting transparency on the beleaguerd project to shield residents from more bad news.

"I would like to see the new HART board lay out for the public in objective terms what the ridership is," said critic Cliff Slater, at a Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board meeting Thursday.

He was cut off by director of the city's Transportation Service Department Wes Frysztacki: "Point of order, Mr. Chairman since the speaker is not speaking to anything on the agenda. I think we should limit his comments."

Later in the meeting, another rail critic, retired University of Hawaii Law Professor Randy Roth, faced similar objections during his testimony. Roth said some board members just don't want the public to hear the bad news.

Roth noted that at one point the HART board met secretly behind closed doors to discuss the requirements of the state's sunshine laws, which is also known as the state's open meetings law.

"There's an alarming lack of transparency at HART. It's worse than a lack of transparency. A lot of what they are making available is pure propaganda," said Roth.

But HART's Chairman Damien Kim said there was no effort to muzzle the critics.

"I have no objections to them coming out. Everybody has their own opinions and they can express their own opinions to the board itself," Kim said. "But what is funny is that the issues they brought up has to do with the city council or the legislature and (not) to the HART board itself."

Roth and Slater were among the critics who stalled the project with a lawsuit. They now say HART is misleading lawmakers with unrealistic financial and ridership numbers.

Parsons-Brinkerhoff projected 116,000 riders per day. But Roth noted that same consultant did a similar forecast for a Puerto Rico rail line that ended up with only about a quarter the number of expected riders.

"Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco several years ago, once wrote in the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment," Roth said.

"If people knew the real costs from the start. Nothing would be approved. The idea is to get going, start digging a hole and make it so big that there's no alternative but to come up with more money."

Despite those allegations, the HART board canceled a $250,000 special audit that would have taken a closer look at past cost-overruns.

Board member Ember Shinn, a former city official said HART needs the money for other things, especially since there are other outside reviews being conducted.

"It's not my intent to muck around in the past and try to figure out what we did wrong in the past. It's more trying to get forward," she said.

"What I like about the (American Public Transportation Association's)  peer review and the (Project Management Oversight Contractor) reports is that it primarily talks about management and process as opposed to we made a screwy, stupid decision back then," she added.

Critics say that attitude is why the project is in trouble today.

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