The Honolulu City Council has appointed former Council member John Henry Felix to the board of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, a semi-autonomous city agency that’s charged with managing the city’s rail project.

The rail line, now expected to cost at least $8 billion if completed as planned, is about 60 percent over budget due to a combination of rising construction costs, lawsuits and poor fiscal management, among other factors.

Felix, 86, served on the Council from 1988 to 2002 and voted against building a rail line in 1992. He also made headlines for running afoul of city zoning laws and campaign spending rules.

In Honolulu, volunteer map editors use reports by Waze users to provide current information on rail construction and traffic.
Honolulu’s rail project is about 60 percent over budget and is now estimated to cost less taxpayers at least $8 billion. Ryan Ozawa

The Council voted to approve Felix’s appointment unanimously Wednesday during a hearing in Kapolei. Felix replaces board member Ivan Lui-Kwan, whose term expired June 30.

During the hearing, Felix told Council members that cost overruns are common among transit projects.

While it’s not unusual for rail projects across the nation to run over-budget, the average cost overruns for 38 U.S. public transit projects surveyed by the Federal Transit Administration in 2011 was 37.5 percent. Only 10 of those projects exceeded original estimates by more than 60 percent.

Felix suggested that previous cost estimates for Honolulu rail may have been “strategic representations,” which he said is “a euphemism for lying,” and said he expects to reassess previous cost and ridership estimates.

“We have to put all of the options available to us on the table and assess them realistically,” he said. “There are many concerns. I don’t have all the answers. I’m sure that by working together … we can come up with a viable program to salvage this project.”

Councilman Ikaika Anderson from Waimanalo said Felix grew up with Anderson’s grandfather and great-uncle and called Felix “a classy individual.”

Council Chair Martin said he believes Felix is “fully capable of accepting this assignment,” adding: “I don’t know why he would want to, given the predicament we’re in.”

The appointment lasts until June 30, 2021.

Click here to learn more about Felix.

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