Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s desire to protect $210 million in federal bus funding means the city’s $6 billion rail project needs even more money than officials had recently announced.

In December, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas said the project was estimated to go over budget by $550 million to $700 million.

And while Grabauskas knew the city didn’t want to spend the $210 million on rail, he didn’t include it in the projected shortfall. If he had, the range would be $710 million to $910 million.

Section of elevated rail area near Kapolei during media day. 3 dec 2014. photograph Cory Lum

Honolulu’s rail budget could be about $1 billion short without federal bus money that city officials don’t want used on the project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

KITV reported the discrepancy Tuesday, including quotes from Honolulu City Council members who raised questions about whether HART and city officials were being truthful about just how much money was needed to complete the project.

“The council was never told that we have a nine-hundred and some odd million dollar shortfall for rail,” Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson told KITV4. “The council was told by HART that our shortfall is $700 million.”

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who chairs the budget committee, called the project’s financial plan a “shell game.”

Caldwell and Grabauskas responded quickly, even though both were on the mainland meeting with federal officials about the project and its financing.

“I maybe think it could have been made more clearly by HART when they talked about it,” Caldwell told KITV from Washington, D.C. on Wednesday. “At the end of the day, I think, nothing was hidden.”

Grabauskas, who was in San Francisco meeting with Federal Transit Administration officials, said he laid the finances out clearly to the HART board of directors in December when the shortfall was announced.

It would have been “disingenuous” to include the $210 million in the shortfall projection, he said, since it’s still technically part of the project’s financial plan and no official moves have been made to find a new funding source.

The city wants to raise taxes to help pay for the project by extending a half-percent surcharge on the general excise tax beyond its 2022 sunset date. Caldwell has also met with federal transportation officials to get more funding.

Caldwell said that meeting was “very positive,” according to this YouTube video he posted Wednesday from D.C.:

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