Honolulu mayor committed to seeing rail reach Ala Moana Center

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell still wants the rail project to go all the way to Ala Moana Center.

KHON2 has been trying to talk to the mayor and and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO Dan Grabauskas ever since the Federal Transit Administration projected the cost of rail to get up to $8 billion.

On Wednesday, the mayor said he’s not giving up on getting more money for the project.

He said cutting the route short would lose ridership, which means we could pay even more for rail. He wants to get more money from the state, the federal government, and/or the private sector.

The state legislature already told the city not to come back asking for more money when lawmakers approved an extension of the General Excise Tax hike to the year 2027.

But now that the project will fall about a billion dollars short of the last estimated cost, the mayor wants to ask for another extension.

“I like the GET tax because it’s paid for partly by visitors and the military, and why would we want to put more burden on the residents of this island when we can shift some of that burden offshore to our visitors,” Caldwell said.

He says the state can also free up the 10 percent it skims off the GET every year for collecting the tax, estimated at up to $440 million through the year 2027.

“That’s almost a half a billion dollars being retained by the state. We need about a billion, a little bit more or less. That gets us halfway there, just on that,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell says all options are on the table, including asking the federal government, which already turned him down. But he says he will not increase property taxes to pay for rail.

Honolulu City Council chairman Ernie Martin is against asking the state to extend the GET, but he feels state lawmakers might be willing to put money into the project if the rail instead went to the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“This is a state institution, so I think the state will be a little bit more amenable to considering perhaps assisting us and not necessarily with extending the GET surcharge but there might be other revenue sources,” Martin said.

But he adds that if we don’t have the money, we should just stop at Middle Street and make it work.

Caldwell and Martin are also looking into getting private companies to pitch in and help make up the shortfall.

We also wanted to hear from Grabauskas, as the person in charge of the largest capital project in the history of the state. How did we get to this price tag and what does he plan to do about it? So far he has not made himself available.

A HART spokesman says board chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa and board member Mike Formby are taking the lead for comments.

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