The over-budget Honolulu rail project has submitted an interim plan to the federal government for how it wants to cover a $1.8 billion shortfall or reduce the project’s scope to stay within the current budget.

Honolulu officials are hoping that the interim plan will buy time with the Federal Transit Administration to submit a more detailed blueprint for how to move forward.

The FTA had said it wanted the full-blown recovery plan by the end of the year.

But in a meeting in San Francisco in August, officials from the city and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation got the FTA to consider extending the deadline until the middle of 2017 as long as it submitted the interim plan by the end of September.

Honolulu rail car

A Honolulu rail car on display at Kapolei Hale.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

That would give rail backers time to persuade the Legislature or perhaps private businesses to cover the funding gap for the 20-mile, 21-station route, whose estimated cost was revised last week to $8.6 billion. When the city and the FTA signed a funding agreement in 2012, the cost was estimated at $5.2 billion. Even that was an increase from earlier estimates. The completion date also was pushed back from 2024 to December 2025.

The interim plan, submitted on Friday and released to the public Monday, outlined two broad strategies: raising the money to complete the project as first envisioned to Ala Moana Center, or scaling it back, but not so much that the FTA would withdraw its support of $1.55 billion.

According to the interim plan, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council Chairman Ernie Martin both remain committed to finishing the project from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

“We need a lot of help paying for it,” Martin said in a statement released Monday. “Hopefully our federal partners review HART’s recovery plan and reconsider their position that Honolulu is not eligible to receive additional federal funds.”

Caldwell raised the possibility in June of stopping the rail line at Middle Street for now and eventually completing it to Ala Moana Center. The FTA has said it does not consider this a viable project and has made it clear it would withdraw its financial support.

Plan B in the interim proposal released Monday laid out the possibility of deferring stations and other elements. As part of this alternative, HART is looking closely at a new alignment that would end at the Downtown Station, near Nimitz Highway and Alakea Street, instead of going all the way to Ala Moana Center. This apparently would be enough to satisfy the FTA that the project is viable while reducing costs.

Plan B also would eliminate the Pearl Highlands Transit Center and four stations: Kalihi, Kapalama, Iwilei and Chinatown. The stations past Downtown would also be cut. HART would hope to complete these components when money became available. In the meantime, officials will analyze the implications of this alternative for the final recovery plan, such as loss of ridership and revenue and increased costs of beefing up bus service.

It’s also possible that the final recovery plan could include some additional funding and scaling back of the original proposal.

Here is the interim plan:

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