FTA extends deadline for rail recovery plan

The city is getting more time to work on a recovery plan for Honolulu’s rail project, though not as much as officials had hoped.

The Federal Transit Administration sent a letter to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell Tuesday granting an extension of the deadline to April 30, 2017.

“We appreciate the many challenges HART has faced in the design and construction of the Project and the progress made since our August meeting,” it said.

The plan was previously due at the end of the year, but the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation wanted until July to finish it.

In its letter, the FTA discusses the two options for rail: completing it to Ala Moana as planned, which could cost up to $9.5 billion, or building it as far as the $6.8 billion currently allotted for the project will allow. The FTA says it “recognizes that Plan A is the City and County’s preferred option,” however it wants both explored in case funding doesn’t materialize for the full line.

The FTA says HART shouldn’t take any action with contracts that favor one option over the other until a final decision is made.

View the letter in its entirety here.

HART released the following statement in response:

“HART thanks the FTA for its consideration for granting an extension into next year, which will now allow us more time to continue our work on the recovery plan and to work to with the necessary stakeholders and partners to secure the additional funding necessary to build the full 20 mile, 21 station rail transit system originally planned for Honolulu. Toward that end, we also acknowledge the recent unanimous Honolulu City Council support for extending the county surcharge on the state General Excise Tax in order to complete the rail project.

“HART also appreciate the FTA’s acknowledgement of the progress HART has made since our recent meetings in August and September, including the hiring of our new Interim Executive Director and CEO, the scheduling of a peer review through the American Public Transportation Association, and the submission of our Interim Plan and updated draft of the Financial Plan.”

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, former HART chairwoman, met with FTA acting administrator Carolyn Flowers Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

In a statement, she called the meeting productive:

“I remain confident of the FTA’s continuing commitment to partner with the City and County of Honolulu on the rail project. While the FTA letter dated December 6, 2017 did not grant the City’s request for a July 30, 2017 Recovery Plan submission date, it did provide an earlier date (April 30, 2017) that will actually benefit the City by allowing access to the next layer (tronch) of federal funds following the submission of an acceptable Recovery Plan. I encourage HART, under the leadership of Krishniah Murthy, to continue working closely with the FTA as they prepare their Recovery Plan consistent with FTA guidance.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said in a statement: “The city has developed a more clear-eyed, realistic plan to get the rail project back on track. More must be done in the coming months to ensure we can complete the project, but this extension is welcome news ‎for Honolulu and is further indication of the FTA’s commitment to the rail project.”

Honolulu City Council chairman Ernie Martin said in a statement: “The FTA is very clear that they want us to build a project with $6.8 billion, regardless of whether or not it fulfills the vision approved by the voters. To me, that is unacceptable. The city is committed to building a 20-mile, 21-station system that connects West Oahu to downtown. We are preparing to discuss a further extension of the GET surcharge for rail and all other funding options with our partners at the state legislature during the coming session. This project cannot be viewed as a state or city issue. We all represent the same communities and recognize the potential that rail and Transient Oriented Development hold for the future of Honolulu.”

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