HART asks for more time in $8.6 billion interim plan to FTA

hart rail train cars

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is asking for more time to find the funds to get rail all the way to Ala Moana.

The request was submitted in an interim plan given to the Federal Transit Administration Monday, along with an outline of how far along construction can get with only the money it has.

How far the city can afford with today’s money is still up in the air. To get to Ala Moana, HART says it needs more funding from such sources as state and city lawmakers, and needs until mid-2017 to get it and to write a final recovery plan.

Click here to view the interim plan in its entirety.

The 88-page report is titled “Interim Plan” — 20 pages of an update and dozens more pages of other exhibits, like past board presentation materials and general-excise-tax-related measures.

“The interim plan is not the recovery plan. It is the FTA telling us, ‘We want to see the process you will go through to get to the recovery plan if we make you do that either by the end of the year or mid-2017,” interim CEO Mike Formby said of the work-in-progress at last Thursday’s HART meeting.

The FTA has held back giving the city more time beyond the year’s end for a full recovery plan, because it wanted assurances HART was moving full speed ahead on solving the money problem. The project is billions short of what it would take to get to Ala Moana Center.

Now they’re telling the FTA the official estimate is up to $8.6 billion to Ala Moana, and it wouldn’t be done until end of 2025.

“Plan A,” as the interim report defines it, consists of getting more money through state and city lawmakers next year, more careful risk analysis and management, and holding off on some contracts and spending where possible until it all plays out.

“Plan B” is building to the current budget of just $6.8 billion. As of the summer, they thought that could get them to Middle Street, but costs have escalated even since then.

Also, the feds told city officials this summer in San Francisco they’d better go beyond Middle Street or risk losing federal funding.

“They would not be satisfied with anything less than going to at least, at the minimum, downtown Honolulu, and in their minds, downtown Honolulu meant the Aloha Tower station,” Honolulu City Council chairman Ernie Martin told Always Investigating in August, right after the San Francisco meetings wrapped up.

When asked whether the Aloha Tower area, downtown Honolulu, or another similar location would meet the minimum to retain the federal grant, or if reaching Ala Moana Center was an absolute requirement still at this point, FTA’s acting administrator told Always Investigating: “FTA expects the HART recovery plan to deliver a viable project providing rapid transit benefits for Honolulu residents and tourists,” adding that “we will continue to work with City and County officials to determine a successful path forward to complete this project and maintain our federal financial commitment.”

So that makes Plan B trickier: go far enough to keep the federal grant, figure out which stations to defer but still keep enough ridership, and slash from the budget anything else that’s not an absolute necessity.

In the interim filing, HART pledged to update its financial plan by Dec. 1. That document hasn’t been updated since 2012. The financial plan has to include operation and maintenance costs too.

Martin said in a statement issued Monday:

“The city is committed to building the entire 20-mile, 21-station route connecting the West Side to Ala Moana Center but we need a lot of help paying for it. Hopefully our federal partners review HART’s recovery plan and reconsider their position that Honolulu is not eligible to receive additional federal funds. The City Council continues to work with the business community, city administration, state and federal legislators to plan the way forward and secure more money for the project.”

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