Mayor, councilors undecided on Honolulu’s railway line to the Ala Moana Middle

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May 1 – The final destination of the city’s long-troubled railroad project at the Ala Moana Center is rethought as officials struggle to fill the $ 3.5 billion budget gap required to complete the transit system.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi plans to meet with the Federal Transit Authority in July or August to come up with updated plans for the project to identify the funding gap that could include the Ala Moana Center’s discontinuation.

“Ala Moana was a predetermined destination about 15 years ago … and that was all well and good then. … In the meantime, we’ve delayed a project that is not only billions of dollars over budget, years delayed, but it has proven to be a real challenge to even construct, “he said on Friday in the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii.

“If I go to the free trade agreement, it will be with them where we think we can make it, how far we can build it. Whether or not Ala Moana is in their offer? I don’t know.”

The cost of the 20-mile railroad project to connect Kapolei to Ala Moana has risen to $ 12.499 billion and won’t be completed until March 2031. While 16 miles have already been completed, the last four have proven to be the most difficult.

The administration is reviewing financing measures, but has less income from general consumption tax and temporary accommodation tax due to the COVID.

The pandemic did not help the situation.

“We owe it to the public as incredible investments have been made in building the best possible track,” said Blangiardi.

“But these are very real economic factors, so is this idea of ​​how far we can go by rail? You know that building to Ala Moana is almost completely unrelated to the reality we are in.”

Blangiardi’s response on Friday wasn’t the first time the train had stopped just before Ala Moana.

At the last meeting of the board of directors of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, board member Joe Uno suggested that Honolulu city council at least discuss whether to stop the rail on Middle Street.

The story goes on

Of the nine Honolulu City Council members asked by the Star Advertiser for their position on whether the rail should continue past Middle Street, six replied.

Councilor Brandon Elefante, who represents the Pearl City area, said the rail should continue to the Ala Moana Center.

“This project will be transformative and part of improving transportation, reducing fossil fuel consumption, generating contributions to affordable housing, and supporting transportation needs for residents and visitors,” said Elefante.

“We have to consider all the options that are on the table: expanding the general excise tax surcharge (as an important state transport infrastructure), public-private partnerships along transit-oriented development areas and examining further federal funding, if available, such as the upcoming federal support for infrastructure projects . “

Councilor Radiant Cordero, who represents the Kalihi area, agreed with Elefante’s views.

“Stopping the train on Middle Street will not save the project,” she said.

“Let’s say we end up on Middle Street. At what price? … We have to finance the rest of the project ourselves, repay the federal government under the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), and finance operations and maintenance. HART- Board members advocating for the track to stop on Middle Street are not taking the position of the City Council … Our communities depend on helping our city grow with affordable housing and access to jobs in our transit-oriented development . They are leaving entire churches, especially the residents of my district, especially Kalihi, who deserve this. They deserve better. “

The FFGA requires the railroad to travel the full 20 miles to receive the full $ 1.55 billion in federal funding. To date, HART has received approximately $ 806 million.

Waikele City Councilor Augie Tulba, however, disagreed.

“$ 3.5 billion is a big deal. The city has limited resources and every year the administration and council have to work together to make tough decisions about funding,” he said.

“I don’t see how we can close the $ 3.5 billion gap right now. That’s why I support a break on Middle Street. We need to develop a fiscally sound plan that won’t handcuff future generations and find creative solutions who take this into account. ” take emerging traffic technologies into account. “

Kaimuki City Councilor Calvin Say was not in a strong position in any way, but it did not make sense to place contracts to complete the last section of rail without a solid funding plan.

“It now appears that we cannot rely on additional federal funding, so the council must work with HART, our city administration and our colleagues in the state to find a financial way forward,” he said.

“A break in the rail outside of the urban core would short-circuit the residents and businesses in these districts who, along with those around the island, helped fund the rail. Many large housing projects in my district are being built on the promise that Rail is being built. As government officials, it is important that we find a way to deliver on our promises to our residents. “

Council chairman Tommy Waters said he was still considering options to fill the rail budget gap but did not say whether he supported the continuation of the project for the Ala Moana Center.

“I look forward to further discussions with my colleagues on the Council as HART continues to evaluate what cost-saving measures can be taken to ensure a successful project,” he said.

Councilor Andria Tupola, who represents Kapolei where the track begins, referred the question to Blangiardi.

Although Blangiardi is considering discontinuing the rail to the Ala Moana Center, he insisted that it would not stop on Middle Street.

“I’m not interested in stopping on Middle Street,” he said.

Blangiardi was also optimistic about the closer collaboration between his office, the city council and the interim CEO of HART, Lori Kahikina.

“The open crack that the office had with HART was so dysfunctional and we worked really hard not to make it,” he said.

“I feel very comfortable in our daily conversations in all of our joint efforts to solve problems.”

That collaboration was evident in Kahikina’s response to Blangiardi’s statements about a possible review of the continuation of the rail to the Ala Moana Center.

“HART’s position will be to assist the administration,” she said.

“We will support the mayor as he needs it.”