The city’s rail project is in trouble.

The trouble is not that the Legislature “failed” to approve billions of dollars in new taxes. The real trouble is that the Mayor and certain council members seem unconcerned with runaway expenses and believe the project deserves unlimited new tax revenue, regardless of their demonstrated inability to manage costs, and regardless of the fact that rail is now taking funds from other important priorities.

Keep in mind, the original rail project was projected to run from Kapolei to the University of Hawaii Manoa at a cost of $3.7 billion. Later, the route was shortened to Ala Moana and the cost increased to $5.2 billion, which included a large contingency fund. The system was to be operational by 2019 and all debts would be retired by 2022.

Two years ago, Mayor Kirk Caldwell assured everyone that rail could be completed for $6.1 billion, and a five‐year tax extension would be enough to complete the rail project from Kapolei to Ala Moana. Today the estimated cost is nearly $10 billion, although we have yet to see the price tag for the most expensive part of the project: Downtown.

Rail guideway HART Pearl City. 8 may 2017

The Honolulu rail guideway in Pearly City. It’s time for city leaders to make some tough choices about the project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a refreshing flash of candor, the Mayor was recently quoted as saying he did not know how much revenue a 10‐year tax extension would raise, but it would not be enough to finish the project.

While some are fond of saying Oahu residents voted to approve rail, we ask you to remember: Oahu residents did not vote on whether we wanted a $10 billion to $15 billion system, with a $100+ million annual operating cost, at the cost of foregoing other City and/or State improvements, and increased City taxes and/or a permanent State tax surcharge. Mercifully, the State Legislature did not agree to extend the rail tax this year.

The Federal Transit Authority is concerned too. Remember when they criticized the City for never having the time to do it right, but always having the time to do it over?

Now the City has time to take a hard look at the project, and figure out how to do it right. Rail’s price tag has risen so much that the City cannot afford to do both rail and a host of other needed projects like sewer upgrades, building, road and park maintenance, and homeless services.

The City must adjust its decision making to match today’s fiscal reality. Will street level rail be more affordable, appropriate and expandable around Honolulu? Can the current project be built to Aloha Tower with existing funds? Can builder‐operator agreements reduce construction and operating costs?

The public deserves vigorous discussion of the possibilities. This rail project is monstrously expensive. We must not continue to feed the beast without consideration of other state and city priorities. When so much money is diverted to one massive project, less money is available for all the other pressing government issues like workforce housing, improved school classrooms, shelters, and road maintenance.

Any rational project manager would be looking at adaptations and alternatives. The Mayor steadfastly refused to do so, betting heavily that he could pressure the Legislature into raising billions more in taxes without fixing the underlying problems.

It is time for the Mayor to uphold his fiduciary responsibility to Oahu residents, to consider greater cost saving measures and to make some tough choices to complete this project.

Sens. Riviere and Thielen voted against the 2015 rail tax extension because they did not believe the City had demonstrated an ability to contain costs. They remain concerned.

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