WASHINGTON — Add U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono to the list of Hawaii politicians who are skeptical about the federal government bailing out Honolulu’s rail project, which is billions of dollars over budget.

During an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” program, Hirono expressed similar views as those already voiced by her colleagues, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Congressman Ed Case, who both sit on their respective chambers’ appropriations committees. The bottom line: city officials shouldn’t come begging for more money to help complete the rail line.

“The cost overrun has been tremendous,” Hirono said. “We cannot look to the federal government to provide the kind of funding that we’re going to need for a project that has gone from $5.5 billion to somewhere in the order of $11 billion.”

The latest estimates put the total cost at more than $12 billion including the cost of financing.

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono joined the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” to discuss Washington and her views on local issues, such as rail. Screenshot

The Federal Transit Administration has already entered into a grant agreement with the City and County of Honolulu to provide $1.55 billion to the project, which right now is slated to run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

Federal officials, however, have refused to release $744 million due to ongoing problems with the project, which is now expected to cost more than twice its original budget, is 10 years behind schedule in terms of construction and the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

Further putting that money at risk are recent comments by Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who recently suggested cutting the rail line short of Ala Moana to help reconcile the project’s $3.6 billion shortfall.

“I certainly have not gotten involved in the design aspects and selection of contractors and all that,” Hirono said. “I have been very focused on making sure that the federal portion … will be there. There are some issues along those lines because of some of the changes to where the rail will go and all that, so those things will need to be worked out.”

Hirono took the opportunity Wednesday to discuss the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations to continuing to re-build Hawaii’s tourism-based economy, although she said she was “not there yet” on the idea of supporting widespread vaccine mandates.

She also took a swipe at supporters of former President Donald Trump who have refused to get vaccinated and politicized public safety by shirking mask mandates and social distancing.

“It does hurt me to know there are so many millions in our country who refuse to get vaccinated, but we can’t give up,” she said.

Hirono also took a victory lap over the Senate’s 94-1 passage of her anti-Asian hate bill that seeks to curb growing violence directed toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Missouri Republican Josh Hawley was the only member of the Senate to vote against it.

“Just because you have a bill like this — which the House will take up — doesn’t change the hearts and minds of all these people who bear an animus toward Asian American and Pacific Islanders, who have for a long time felt invisible, and who have always been the other, the perpetual foreigners,” she said.

We’re here to help Hawaii vote.

Our staff has spent months preparing for this election season. Now it’s your turn to vote on the leaders who will impact our community for years to come.

If you’ve relied on our daily analysis and reporting, Candidate Q&As, free events and online resources, please consider making a donation to your local nonprofit newsroom.

Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism.

About the Author