When the Hawaii Legislature passed a rail-funding bill in special session last month, much of the public attention was focused on which taxes would be raised, for how long and how much money it would all generate.

As significant as the $2.4 billion price tag was — and it is, because it comes from taxpayers — also significant was the insistence of legislators that the state have far greater oversight of the city’s rail project, invariably described as “troubled,” “beleaguered” and “out of control.”

That oversight includes asking the state auditor to closely scrutinize the financial plans and award contracts from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. The state comptroller will also review all costs incurred by HART.

A HART board meeting at Alii Place earlier this year. Executive Director Andrew Robbins is at far left. Legislative leaders just named four new members to improve oversight of the Honolulu rail project.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Senate Bill 4 also required House and Senate leaders to appoint new members to the HART board. That happened Oct. 25, when Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki selected Kalbert Young, Wesley Machida, Toby Martyn and Kamani Kualaau.

While they are nonvoting members, they are excellent appointees who will be depended on to help monitor the project’s finances.

Young and Machida are the former and current state finance directors, while Martyn and Kualaau have backgrounds in asset management.

The four join a 12-member board that includes people with experience in transportation, law, civil engineering, public accounting and government. The new members can help the board make better decisions than, say, the recent recommendation from board member Ember Shinn that resulted in the HART board rejecting a $250,000 special audit that would have examined past rail cost-overruns.

The new HART members might also provide a measure of stability to a board after the departures of high-profile members such as Colleen Hanabusa, Colbert Matsumoto and Don Horner.

HART also recently got a new executive director, Andrew Robbins.

New leadership and new funding by no means guarantee a smoother ride for rail, which is behind schedule and way over-budget.

But it’s a new chance to finally start doing rail right.

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