Lawmakers request cost estimate to finish rail at street level

Several state lawmakers want the cost of finishing rail at street level nailed down.

They say the public has lost confidence in the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and they’re asking the state auditor to come up with the answer.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, says it has gotten to the point where nobody really believes the numbers being thrown around anymore, and taxpayers are getting frustrated.

She said it’s “not because people no longer support rail, but people have lost confidence in the cost, and they have lost confidence in the management, and they have lost confidence in what this project is going to cost in the future.”

Luke cites the latest report by the non-profit group American Public Transportation Association, which raises doubts about the cost and the project’s completion date.

Luke and other lawmakers introduced a resolution asking the state auditor to look at putting rail at street level from Middle Street to Ala Moana as a way to cut costs.

HART, the agency in charge of rail, and the city have been against the option in the past. They say it’s because it cannot deliver fast, frequent, safe, and reliable transit service to Oahu.

They say it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than originally estimated, and would move as slow as the surrounding traffic, which would defeat the purpose of riding the rail.

Luke says state lawmakers want more proof that it’s not a better option.

“We’ve been taking the city’s word for it, and because we’ve been taking the city’s word for it, we’ve also been criticized for not doing our own independent research and homework,” she said.

Luke adds that it’s difficult to take HART and the city’s word when they came to the Legislature two years ago asking to extend the general excise surcharge for rail, saying all that was needed was to raise another $900 million to complete the project.

“As soon as the session was over, they pretty much said it’s not $900 million, it’s way more than that. It’s double that. So it’s really our responsibility to take a look at what is the true cost because we owe that to the taxpayers,” she said.

This type of audit could be beyond the scope of what the state auditor does.

If that’s the case, Luke says there are other independent agencies who could provide some answers.

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