HART had hoped $125 million would quickly be released last year to help fund the $10 billion project but now expects that money won’t arrive until December.

The Honolulu rail authority’s long wait for some promised federal funding will likely drag on until the end of this year, which would be a year longer than the city expected.

Members of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation were presented with a financial update Thursday that disclosed that $125 million in federal funding — money HART officials expected to receive last December — will probably not arrive until this December.

City officials signed an agreement with the federal government in 2012 that called for $1.55 billion in federal funding to help finance the city rail line. However, $744 million of that federal money has been held up since 2014 as the Honolulu rail project suffered years of delays and gigantic cost overruns.

Skyline train rail commute mass transit free Keone’ae University of Hawaii West Oahu
The first section of the Skyline rail launched earlier this summer after years of delays and cost overruns, but the full line isn’t expected to be done for many years. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

The $125 million is the first chunk of that $744 million, and the balance won’t be available until even later.

Rick Keene, deputy executive director and chief operating officer for HART, told the HART finance committee that even with that delay in federal funding, “we still have adequate cash flow, adequate anticipated balances to fund all of our expenditures.”

Last year HART won approval from the Federal Transit Administration for the city’s latest “recovery plan,” which spells out how the project will be completed.

The recovery plan included some major changes, such as halting the rail line at South Street. The original 2012 agreement called for the line to extend from East Kapolei beyond South Street to Ala Moana Center, but the city opted to truncate the line to cut costs.

The FTA accepted the city recovery plan on Sept. 30, raising hopes that the $125 million tranche of federal funding would quickly be released. But the FTA is requiring an amended “full funding grant agreement” be finalized between FTA and the city before it releases any of the long-awaited $744 million.

Ten months later, that full funding grant agreement still hasn’t been approved.

HART still needs to complete a number of steps to finalize the new grant agreement, including clearing a federal environmental “re-evaluation” of the so-called “Mauka Shift” of the rail guideway along Dillingham Boulevard, officials said.

The Mauka Shift involves slightly re-routing the rail line along Dillingham to avoid utilities in the area, which should help cut costs. HART plans to submit the documentation required for that environmental re-evaluation to the FTA this month, according to a written update on the project.

Keene told the HART finance committee on Thursday that the transfer of that $125 million to HART might be delayed even longer, and could slip into early next year.

HART expects to receive the next $250 million in federal funding next year. The FTA is requiring that the city award a contract for construction of the final three-mile segment of elevated guideway through the city center and the last six rail stations before FTA will release that money.

The city rail project was expected to cost about $5.2 billion when the full funding grant agreement was signed in 2012, and construction was supposed to be completed by 2020.

Since then the anticipated cost of the project has ballooned to nearly $10 billion including interest charges, and completion of the shortened rail line is now expected in spring of 2031. The first half of the rail line — nearly 11 miles — opened on June 30.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author