HART board selects interim executive director with 40 years experience

K.N. Murthy, HART Interim Executive Director and CEO
K.N. Murthy, HART Interim Executive Director and CEO

Oahu’s multi-billion dollar rail project has a new leader — a man with 40 years of rail transit experience who says he’s ready to accept the challenges.

K.N. Murthy was introduced Thursday as the interim executive director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), which runs the rail project.

Among the challenges he’s facing: A $1.8 billion shortfall, scrutiny from the Federal Transit Authority, and lack of confidence in the project from the public.

But Murthy says he’s looking forward to taking it all on. He’s excited about the opportunity to turn Oahu’s rail project around, and it all starts with getting the money.

“What are your thoughts about getting that money to get us all the way to Ala Moana Center?” KHON asked.

“Well,” Murthy said, “the funding issue is being addressed by the elected officials and the board. Apparently there is a move to the legislature to get an extension of the tax.”

“Is that the best way, you feel?” “That’s one of the ways,” Murthy said. “There are other ways that we need to explore.” He adds that he also has ideas on public-private partnerships, but he wants to discuss it with HART board members before he reveals the details.

Another big issue is transparency. There were too many surprises under the previous executive director, Murthy says, and that will change under his leadership.

KHON asked if Murthy had even worked on a project that had this many challenges. “All projects have challenges — some of them more complicated than others,” he said. “This is not really that bad in my view. There’s challenges to be expected. The key thing is to systematically address what the issues are.”

Murthy’s decades of experience include working for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Authority from 2007-2014. Before that, he worked on rail projects in Dallas, Atlanta and Phoenix, just to name a few. He retired in 2014 and had founded a consulting firm when he accepted the HART position.

He’ll be working under a one-year contract which starts December 5, with a salary of $400,000. Murthy takes over the position vacated by Dan Grabauskas, who resigned in August. It is an interim position, so HART board members will still need to find someone to take the job permanently.

HART Board Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa says Murthy’s relationship with the Federal Transit Authority will help put the project on the right path. “We’re in a recovery mode, so everybody that can add to how the FTA views this project, that’s critical, because I think what the FTA now feels is that Hawaii is taking this very seriously,” she said.

And Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is now tasked with filling another seat at HART, that of its board chair. Hanabusa submitted her resignation letter to the mayor on Thursday. In the past, she had told us she would likely leave the seat before next month’s general election.

Hanabusa is running for Hawaii’s first congressional district, as well as in a special election to fill the late congressman Mark Takai’s seat until January.

HART board members will vote for which member will replace Hanabusa as the chair.

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