Rail plan sent to FTA af­ter a year of de­lay

HART presents a hard-won $2.4 bil­lion to keep its fed­eral part­ner­ship

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By Mar­cel Honoré mhonore@starad­ver­tiser.com

The fourth time’s the charm.

At long last, city of­fi­cials have de­liv­ered to their Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion part­ners a plan to fin­ish the is­land’s oft-chal­lenged rail-tran­sit project — in­clud­ing what they hope will be enough fund­ing to get the line to Ala Moana Cen­ter. Honolulu Author­ity for Rapid Trans­porta­tion spokesman Bill Bren­nan said that the lo­cal rail agency sent its com­plete “re­cov­ery plan” to the FTA’s Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and San Fran­cisco of­fices late in the af­ter­noon on Fri­day, the lat­est dead­line to sub­mit that re­port.

The FTA had ex­tended its orig­i­nal Aug. 7, 2016, dead­line three times be­fore HART fi­nally hit the “send” but­ton on a work­able plan. In that 13-month pe­riod, HART saw its pre­vi­ous ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Dan Grabauskas, re­sign as the project grap­pled with a grow­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar bud­get deficit. Nu­mer­ous high-rank­ing of­fi­cials also left the agency. Pub­lic de­bate over rail surged once more.

The state Se­nate saw a shakeup in its lead­er­ship over the is­sue. The

Leg­is­la­ture met in spe­cial ses­sion this month to bail out the project when its two cham­bers couldn’t reach a deal ear­lier this year. Tem­pers flared in pri­vate meet­ings as Honolulu Mayor Kirk Cald­well clashed with his for­mer ri­vals in the Leg­is­la­ture, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, over a suit­able rail fund­ing deal.

Neigh­bor is­land and tourist in­dus­try lead­ers protested their ho­tel-room tax dol­lars be­ing lumped into the state’s so­lu­tion to solve rail on Oahu, leav­ing lin­ger­ing re­sent­ment once the spe­cial ses­sion ended.

On the heels of this year’s worth of frus­tra­tion try­ing to solve rail, the re­cov­ery plan sub­mit­ted Fri­day in­cludes the state’s new $2.4 bil­lion bailout pack­age. A copy of the re­port will be posted to HART’s web­site on Mon­day, Bren­nan said.

Schatz and Hanabusa tes­ti­fied ear­lier this month that, based on their dis­cus­sions with FTA of­fi­cials, they’re op­ti­mistic the plan will be solid. Cald­well has pledged to re­turn to the Leg­is­la­ture if it’s not enough.

An in­terim re­cov­ery plan by HART last Septem­ber es­sen­tially reaf­firmed the city’s com­mit­ment to find a way to fund the full 20-mile, 21-station sys­tem, while also propos­ing a “Plan B” to build a shorter line with fewer sta­tions and no Pearl High­lands tran­sit hub based on the money avail­able.

Then, the 249-page re­cov­ery plan that HART sub­mit­ted on April 30 left un­re­solved the main ques­tion of how to pay for the cash-strapped project.

DEN­NIS ODA / DODA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Con­struc­tion con­tin­ued Fri­day on the city’s rail tran­sit line in the area be­tween Aloha Sta­dium and Pearl Har­bor. Whether the line can be built to Ala Moana Cen­ter now awaits ap­proval and con­tin­ued sup­port from the Fed­eral Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion and its $1.55 bil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to the project.

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