WASHINGTON — The Honolulu rail project has fallen behind its own timetable for a federal funding guarantee, and needs to get moving soon to get a deal signed this year.

It’s now mid-September. The president’s budget office should have finished its own review by now. But the packet hasn’t even made it that far — it’s still sitting at the Federal Transit Administration.

Things should be farther along by now according to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO Dan Grabauskas, who is scheduled to travel to Washington for meetings with the FTA and others this week. He laid out his expected sequence of events in an interview with Civil Beat on June 7:

  • The draft of the Full Funding Grant Agreement would be submitted within a week to 10 days — around June 15.
  • The draft, which had already been approved by FTA staffers, would head to FTA leadership for around 30 days — taking us to around July 15.
  • The FTA would forward the packet, with some tweaks, to President Barack Obama and the Office of Management and Budget for another 30 to 60 days — bringing us, on the conservative side, to mid-September.
  • The administration would then submit notice to Congress that it intends to sign the funding guarantee. Congress would have 60 days to review the notice.

Still, Grabauskas says he’s optimistic about the chances of securing the $1.55 billion promise, and the FTA is providing assurances that the deal is indeed going to happen this year.

“The Federal Transit Administration expects to sign a full-funding grant agreement to construct the Honolulu High Capacity Transit Corridor Project by the end of this year, barring any unforeseen complications,” FTA spokesman Brian Farber said in an emailed statement Friday.

“We have been working closely with the FTA on our Full Funding Grant Agreement submittal and all indications we have received thus far have been positive,” Grabauskas said in a statement emailed to Civil Beat earlier last week. “Our submittal should be going to the federal Office of Management and Budget shortly, then on to Congress for the required notification.”

HART spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding said the funding was “still in good shape and we’re on track.”

If approved, the federal funding would cover about 30 percent of construction costs and be a major piece of the project’s financial plan.

Without federal funding, political support on the ground in Honolulu could quickly dry up. Mayor Peter Carlisle, set to visit Washington next week, has said rail would “plow forward” regardless of federal funding, but he lost his re-election bid last month. Kirk Caldwell criticized Carlisle’s plow-forward approach, and Ben Cayetano has vowed to kill the project altogether.

The federal funding timeline is behind Grabauskas’ expectations, in part, because the draft application and updated financial plan ended up being submitted on June 28, a week or two after Grabauskas anticipated. More importantly, the FTA review, which Grabauskas estimated would take 30 days, has thus far taken 80 days — and counting.

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee and has championed the project in the nation’s capital, had little to say about the funding timeline and delayed application packet.

“The latest word I get is that it’s still there,” Inouye said Thursday, referring to the FTA. Asked if he’d heard any new concerns surrounding the project, he said, “Naturally, there are concerns. All of us are concerned. I’ve been through this. H3 had many challenges.”

And asked about changes to the timeline, Inouye said, “Well, I hope we don’t stall it too long, because stalling adds to the cost.”

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa told Civil Beat Friday she expects the full funding agreement to reach Congress in early November — around six weeks from now.

“In my discussions with the FTA, I was always under the impression that their deadline, and it seemed to me that they would wait until that deadline, was like a week before the election,” she said in an interview at her office.

“My understanding is that it would be right before the election that they would give the intent. That’s when they have to, that’s their deadline, is in early November or something. That would be the intent, intent. And I’m really clear about the intent. Not the award. And then the actual signing of the full funding agreement, that’s 60 days later, which would put us right before the end of December. That’s my understanding.”

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