Written correspondence and online comments on virtually everything printed on rail refers to Middle Street.

There are two themes: Stop the rail project and switch to buses for travel further east; or pause construction there, complete ongoing investigations, and determine the best future course of action.

Middle Street is viewed as convenient because the current rail contract covers guideway and stations construction to that point and the location is a major transit center.

HART rail guideway construction near Airport side Makalapa Entrance.
Rail guideway construction near the entrance to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, about one mile from the Daniel K. Inouye International AirportCory Lum/Civil Beat

Our group, the Financial Accountability for Rail Mass Transit Association, supports a pause but recommends it take place at the 12-mile point — near the airport — to be reached this year. Following is the rationale for the association’s position:

  • The ongoing federal investigation may uncover violations that impact issued contracts. Nobody knows at the moment whether or not current contracts have problems that may force a new competition and result in penalties for the contractor and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Collected funds must not be expended on a flawed contract.
  • Cost overruns and change orders have drastically increased guideway construction above initial estimates. There are no guarantees that the segment and stations construction beyond the airport and on to Middle Street will be completed within the existing contracted amount. Are the taxpayers ready to accept added cost overruns in the middle of an investigation?
  • There is little doubt that the city administration and HART are eager to award a new contract for the city center development (i.e., Middle Street to Ala Moana Center) and award it before the current construction contract is completed. Rail officials will then dispute the idea of a pause at Middle Street as an unnecessary delay that will lead to contractor claims for added funding — just as was done by Ansaldo Joint Venture to receive $160 million above its initial contract.
  • The farther construction of a steel wheels on steel rails guideway is extended, the more it will cost to actually change to modern rail technology. Along with directing a state audit of the rail project, Act 1 of 2017 called for an exploration of alternatives for reaching Ala Moana. So far, our association has not found a single mention for an alternative being reviewed by the auditor and — obviously — HART’s mantra will be to “stay the course” with its obsolescent steel wheels on steel rails system.

A pause this summer may or may not result in a slip in the rail schedule for operational status. It will not affect the planned late 2020 start of limited rail operations to Aloha Stadium. It will, however, enable enough time to fully examine the state audit (with two parts still to be released) and receive preliminary results from the federal investigation.

It also will provide plenty of time to explore alternatives. That exploration should include detailed descriptions of costs, environmental impacts, level of transit service, and an implementation schedule for alternatives such as:

  • Re-routing of rail’s main alignment to the University of Hawaii campus in Manoa rather than Ala Moana and the (financial) impact of not adhering to terms in the 2012 Full Funding Grant Agreement.
  • Bus Rapid Transit from Middle Street through downtown Honolulu and Waikiki as well as to UH-Manoa.
  • Termination of the rail project, with complete elimination of all facilities and completed guideway.
  • Conversion to at-grade light rail from Middle Street.
  • Conversion from steel wheels on steel rails to urban magnetic levitation (maglev) or conventional monorail technology. (Note: Costs have been estimated for two maglev solutions. One follows the main alignment as planned by HART; the other moves the alignment away from downtown areas that may experience future sea level rise, with a mauka routing to UH-Manoa.)

Enlightened political leadership can direct full examination of the above alternatives. The Financial Accountability for Rail Mass Transit Association hopes that leadership can be found.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Authors