Council grills rail leader after $500 million withheld in federal funds


The head of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation says he hopes to have an updated financial plan by the end of the year.

That plan is something that’s keeping HART from getting a lot of federal money.

It’s an issue Always Investigating uncovered last week, when the Federal Transit Administration told us it was withholding $500 million until it gets some answers from HART about its financial plan.

“What are the conditions to have those funds released?” asked Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin.

“So there was a letter that came from then the acting administrator,” said HART executive director Dan Grabauskas.

Grabauskas told councilmembers the letter asked for the extension of the GET surcharge or another type of funding, HART’s financial plan and other information.

“If you had to give a projected timeline as to when that condition be satisfied, when is your best guess estimate?” Martin asked.

“If I could give you an answer after I speak to the regional administrator, that would be, I can give you a better answer,” Grabauskas said.

“Just the best guess estimate today for the purpose of this hearing,” Martin said.

“I really have to see where they think we are,” Grabauskas said.

Martin repeatedly asked when HART would fulfill the conditions needed to release the money.

“So would you say by the end of this fiscal year, would that be a confident date? You have two more months,” Martin said.

“Again, I have to talk to the administrator,” Grabauskas said.

“So you can provide no assurances that it can be done with the next 60 days?” Martin asked.

“I’ll ask the administrator tomorrow,” Grabauskas said.

KHON2 found out the federal government is doing a risk refresh, which happens every year or two. They reset the project schedule and budget, depending on what has happened.

Grabauskas said once that’s done, they will complete the financial update, which he hopes to have submitted and accepted by the FTA in December.

Another councilmember asked if the Council could send its own letter to the FTA with their concerns. HART officials said that would be fine.

“In the past, we’ve either to the Council, or I know I’ve been asked by councilmembers to ask specific questions. The FTA has been pretty responsive with that,” Grabauskas said.

So where do things stand now, if the federal government is withholding all that money for the project?

HART budgeted $360 million of the funds to spend within the fiscal year. If HART doesn’t have the money it needs, it may have to borrow bonds earlier.

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