New rail chief Dan Grabauskas stopped by Civil Beat headquarters Thursday after the Honolulu City Council moved the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation budgets forward Thursday.

I asked him about the working relationship with the council, what concerns he’s heard from the community since he arrived and what changes he might implement for the project. The juiciest nuggets from our conversation follow below, and we’ll have more from Grabauskas next week.

On satisfying both the Honolulu City Council and the Federal Transit Administration simultaneously

“In order to access that federal funding, we need to make sure that the federal overseers are satisfied. So understanding that, I think what I really end up doing, and I’ve seen this a little bit already, here and in other places, is you end up being sort of an intermediary between two competing but also complementary bodies.

“One is the FTA on behalf of the federal taxpayers and the federal government, and then the City Council on behalf of local taxpayers and local oversight. And the FTA wants to make sure that there’s sufficient funding to get this project done, have contingencies should there be something that may or may not happen within the budget, and then even have a contingency on top of that. … And that’s prudent.

“City Council on the other hand is saying, ‘So, let’s make sure if you needed to tap that hopefully-never-tap money, can we have a provision that you repay us.’ OK, so let’s go back to the FTA and make sure they’re OK with that kind of thing. So you go back and forth. … In my experience, that process goes on all the time. Could the process derail the rail project? It could, but I don’t see that. I’ve never seen that happen. What I’ve seen is that it makes our jobs appropriately difficult and challenging.”

On concerns — aside from transparency and coloring books — that he’s heard about the rail project

“Cost. Construction impacts. Aesthetics of the stations and the line. I’ve heard concerns that we take seriously and reverently deal with iwi kupuna, iwi that are found along the way, and we’re making sure that we’re respectful. People would like to make sure that what we build, we’re plugged into the community and the city and the state as they set zoning and things so that transit-oriented development can be fostered, so that it isn’t just a one-shot seven- or eight- or nine-year construction but that it becomes that magnet for development.

“I’ve heard from a lot of our friends saying, ‘I haven’t heard enough from folks at HART about you’re going to want to be a partner in the long-term economic development and job creation.’ Long-term investment and job creation is one of the things you’re going to hear from me a lot because I know it to be true. … When I say it’s the gift that keeps on giving, it is.”

(Grabauskas’ listening tour continues Friday with three stops along the rail route: Waipahu High School at 10:30 a.m.; Tonioka’s Seafood and Catering at 11:15 a.m. and Waipahu Zippy’s at 11:45 a.m.)

On whether he’s going to take a second look at substantive system decisions like whether the system should be at-grade in Kapolei

“The number one thing you’ll hear about any public transportation system, and I heard it from customers all the time: reliability. Can I get to work? Can I pick up my kids? Is it predictable? Is it reliable? That’s number one. Comfort, security, safety, courtesy, cleanliness. Those are the other things. I can tell you what customers demand to be customers. The number one thing is reliability. The more you put something into mixed traffic, you’re back to the H-1 problem. If more buses would solve the problem, then you’d probably be doing more buses. But more buses is just putting more buses behind more buses.

“There’s a reason why cities, once they reach a certain density level, realize that the roadway systems cannot handle the traffic and they typically go over or under. You have subways or you have elevated fixed guideways. … If you want the reliability that a rail system will give you, you typically have to be over or under the traffic. If you’re in the traffic, you sort of defeat the purpose.”

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