Honolulu City Council member Romy Cachola said the city’s rail project is the most expensive in the United States.

“It’s now the most expensive project nationwide because New Jersey dropped out, Florida dropped out,” Cachola said at a Transportation Committee meeting at Honolulu Hale Wednesday. “It is the most expensive project in the nation.”

Is the Kalihi representative accurate?

Establishing the veracity of his statement depends on how you define “project”. According to a Federal Transit Administration appropriation document for fiscal year 2012, there are several categories for rail, but the two relevant to Honolulu’s situation are:

  • Existing Full Funding Grant Agreements (Projects Under Construction or Open for Service); and
  • Pending Full Funding Grant Agreements (Projects First Recommended For Funding in Prior Year Reports)

Cachola is correct that Honolulu is firmly atop all pending rail projects in the country, in terms of cost.

However when you take into account existing full funding projects, then New York takes the cake. Its line, the “Long Island Rail Road East Side Access” will cost an estimated $7.4 billion.

But because Cachola specifically mentioned the New Jersey and Florida rail lines that flopped, it seems reasonable to assume he was talking about potential lines, not those that are finished or under construction. (Calls to his office for clarification were not returned.)

Using this assumption and the FTA estimated cost of $5.4 billion for Honolulu rail, the capital improvement project is the nation’s biggest.

The next-closest pending rail line is in Denver, which the FTA estimates will cost $2 billion. (That’s just a single line in a much more ambitious system being developed by that city.) Several other planned projects, from Houston to Sacramento, will run in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The table below shows estimated costs and FTA appropriations (New Starts funding) for all pending projects:

Project Total Capital Cost Total New Starts Funding Percentage of Project Cost Covered By New Starts
CA – South Sacramento $270,000,000 $135,000,000 50.0 percent
CA – San Francisco $1,578,300,000 $942,199,000 59.6 percent
CO – Denver $2,043,143,000 $1,030,449,000 50.4 percent
CT – Hartford $572,690,000 $275,300,000 48.0 percent
FL – Orlando $357,272,053 $178,636,026 49.9 percent
HI – Honolulu $5,347,681,000 $1,550,000,000 28.9 percent
MN – St. Paul $956,900,000 $473,950,000 49.5 percent
TX – Houston (North) $756,000,000 $450,000,000 59.5 percent
TX – Houston (Southeast) $822,910,000 $450,000,000 54.7 percent

In this case, Cachola is correct regarding pending systems. But it should be noted that there is at least one more expensive project under way.