WASHINGTON — The recent Hawaii Supreme Court ruling against the Honolulu rail project‘s burial inventory plan delayed the federal funding application and raised new questions in the nation’s capital, city leaders said Thursday after meetings in Washington.
Still, those rail leaders as well as the Federal Transit Administration say they expect to have a deal in place by the end of the year guaranteeing $1.55 billion in federal funds, enough to cover about 30 percent of construction costs.
The key development since Honolulu submitted its funding application to the FTA in June was the court ruling that said the project could not take a phased approach to its cultural surveys and needed to finish test digs along the 20-mile route before proceeding with construction. Civil Beat reported earlier this week that the FTA should have finished reviewing the application within 30 to 60 days, but it’s been more than 80.
“The bottom line is that the 60 days ran, and just about the end of that 60 days, the Supreme Court ruled,” Grabauskas said. “So, logically the FTA is seeking from us information about two big questions: schedule and cost. And so what we’ve been doing for the last several weeks, over those 60 days, is really trying to answer the question.”
The FTA this week said Rogoff would not be available for an interview after meeting with the Honolulu delegation.
Spokesmen for Rep. John Duncan, a Tennessee Republican who chairs the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee, and Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, said those lawmakers would not sit down for post-meeting interviews, either.
Voicemails left at and emails sent to the offices or committee staffs of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), the ranking member on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the ranking member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, were not returned.
Carlisle said he was impressed by the lawmakers familiarity with Honolulu’s project and the poor traffic conditions that make it desirable. He also said the pols “commiserated” with him about his loss in the August primary election, but that the mayoral election was not a common topic of conversation this week.
“They all know about it already. Obviously they read the newspaper and those things,” Carlisle said. “I’d say the most obvious thing was that it’s very clear that Peter Rogoff is not going to get involved in local politics, and he expressed that over and over again. That’s not their job, they don’t believe in it.”
Martin said he wanted to impress upon the FTA and lawmakers that the City Council remains supportive of the project, with three more pro-rail members elected outright in the primary. Okinaga said she found it valuable to connect with leaders in both the executive and legislative branches to make sure the funding stays on track. They were flanked at the interview by Denis Dwyer, the city’s lobbyist.
Grabauskas said HART estimates the ruling could delay construction by about nine months. He declined to speculate how much that could cost, dollar-wise, but HART told the FTA late last year that any construction delays would would add $10 million per month to the price tag.
“It would be a range,” Grabauskas said. “I don’t think it would be wildly different than that figure, but that range is going to really be dependent on (what happens next).”
The schedule and cost are still in flux because Honolulu has asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling. Much depends on how the reconsideration request shakes out, how the lower court implements the high court’s ruling, and how HART fulfills the courts’ orders.
“We stopped construction in I can say four areas: one, the alignment, the maintenance and storage facility, at the precast yard and all the utility relocation work,” Grabauskas said. “We don’t think that it’s necessarily outrageous to think that, maybe not the alignment because that’s directly at wavelengths with the SHPD permit, but the other three at least should be something that we would have a case to be able to recommence.”
“This was the first time in his recollection that you have the leadership, the three different entities for this project that actually came up together in a unified effort to move this project forward,” Martin said.
The team arrived in Washington earlier this week and heads back to Honolulu Friday.
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