Honolulu rail officials’ current $8 billion construction budget — their magic number to get all the way to Ala Moana — is still short by $134 million, a new federal report finds.

Jacobs Engineering, the independent firm watching rail for the Federal Transit Administration, recommends that Honolulu rail officials add that amount to ensure the full 20-mile, 21-station system gets completed.

Further, rail probably won’t be finished and ready for service until September 2026, Jacobs found. That’s nearly another full year beyond the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation‘s current completion estimate of December 2025.

Jacobs’ final “risk-refresh” report, released Monday, analyzes how solid HART’s $8.16 billion budget really is. A new report for Honolulu rail is done every two years.

The latest one follows reports in April that the project’s federal overseers believed the project to be about $250 million short. Since then, HART leaders have testified to City Council members that they were confident they had convinced the FTA that the local agency’s current $8.16 billion estimate is solid.

In meetings with Jacobs and the FTA, HART insisted that its current construction schedule was still reliable and “they’re starting to understand our point of view on that,” HART Executive Director Andy Robbins told the council on May 15. “They’ve already backed down.”

A new table for the FTA finds that rail should have a construction budget of nearly $8.3 billion instead of $8.16 billion Jacobs Engineering

Rail leaders have maintained for more than a year that their budget estimate is sound — they stood by that figure during last year’s legislative special session to secure more state dollars for the project.

Robbins said in a statement released along with the report Monday that it shows that his agency’s cost-control efforts are working.

“The fact that the estimate of the PMOC, using a totally unique and independent top-down analysis of the project, is only 1.6 percent above HART’s current project cost estimate, is a strong endorsement for the risk management and cost control measures HART has put in place over the past two years,” Robbins said. “No longer is there talk of runaway costs and overruns.”

Despite the report’s conclusions, HART will still try to hit its $8.16 billion budget and December 2025 goals, he said.

Jacobs’ report, detailing a $134 million shortfall, comes as city leaders already struggle to fill rail’s existing shortfall of about $215 million that its state revenues won’t cover.

Meanwhile, Honolulu rail leaders are still waiting to see whether the FTA will finally accept the project recovery plan, the 213-page blueprint on how to get rail past its budget woes that the city submitted last year.

The project won’t get its final $744 million in federal dollars until the FTA approves the blueprint, but much of that approval now hinges on how the city plans to absorb its new share of the rail costs. Robbins previously had said he was optimistic the FTA would approve the plan by June 30.

Rail has seen its estimated construction budget swell by about $3 billion since December 2014.

HART rail Kamehameha Hwy Radford Pearl Harbor area.
Rail pillars under construction on Kamehameha Highway, near Pearl Harbor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

One of the top issues that Jacobs flags is the uncertainty caused by HART’s ongoing delay in awarding contracts for the last major work on rail, including the 4-mile stretch into town and the Pearl Highlands transit hub.

HART is looking to team with private firms to help get that work done on-time, but Jacobs said the delays in getting those contracts out have “contributed to the erosion of the schedule contingency.”

Some of Jacobs’ other key findings:

  • Earlier this year, HART still had “inconsistencies” on rail’s contract and budget data within its own internal documents. Jacobs expressed concerns that this could affect the project’s budget, and HART “has noted that additional effort is required to reconcile all inconsistencies between the various documents,” the report stated. That’s similar to the issues the Honolulu City Auditor’s office flagged back in 2016, when it found “missing, outdated, and incomplete information” in HART’s own reports.
  • HART has not fully addressed escalation costs for construction, and the local agency’s own cost estimates are “still undergoing refinement.”
  • Jacobs’ new, estimated schedule delay would mean added costs to maintain what’s already been built of the rail line.  Whatever those costs may be, they aren’t factored into the risk-refresh.

Here’s a copy of rail’s 2018 risk-refresh report:

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