Public frustrated over rail's price tag, management ... but they still want to see it finished

Public frustrated over rail's price tag, management ... but they still want to see it finished
Published: Aug. 21, 2017 at 7:41 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 21, 2017 at 8:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Kirk Caldwell ran against Ben Cayetano for mayor in 2012, voters were divided over their support for rail on Oahu.

Now that the project is well underway — and well over budget — there's clear frustration from many who view rail as a runaway train.

"I think the rail to them represents everything that is wrong with our state government," said Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii Center for Public Policy. "It's this insider game where the unions and construction that benefits that's sort of poorly managed and largely corrupt."

Next Monday, lawmakers will gather to take on an issue that has so far eluded them: How to fund Honolulu's beleaguered rail project.

And they're doing so at a crucial moment for the project: It's got new leadership, its cost overruns are spurring federal attention, and concerns about the project's final price tag — and its future — are growing among the taxpayers who will ultimately pay for it.

Including financing costs, the project — once estimated at $5.8 billion — is now expected to cost as much as $10 billion, including financing costs. That's if all 20 miles and 21 stations are built from Kapolei to Ala Moana.

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"There's a problem on the city side and there's a problem on the leg (legislature) side," said Peter Ganaban, business manager and secretary-treasurer for Laborers' International Union of North America Local 368. "The only thing I can say is both of them know there's a problem, fix it."

But Friends of Rail, which includes the laborers and masons unions, say that despite frustration, people want rail completed.

Their survey showed 68 percent of residents believe Oahu should complete the rail project as planned — all the way to Ala Moana.

That's actually higher than previous polling on the topic.

In April, the Hawaii Poll found 64 percent of residents wanted rail to go to Ala Moana. Last July, 62 percent favored completion.

"Now as the rail is being built, everyone says, 'Look, we are not going to rip it out of the ground so we need to complete it,'" Moore said.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Scott Saiki is reading the polls with caution.

"I think members realize that polls are snapshots in time," he said. "It probably provides more evidence that public sentiment on this project is decreasing and that's the sense that legislators have been getting over the past few months."

This story is part of an ongoing series from Hawaii News Now on Oahu's rail project. On Tuesday, HNN will look at the key decisions and people that brought rail to this point.

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