Highlights of HART Rail Project (2004 to 2015)
by Panos Prevedouros, PhD, January 14, 2016
2004: Newly elected Mayor Hannemann asserts that 34 miles of rail will cost $2.7 Billion.
Mid-2006: Hannemann switches to the Minimum Operating Segment: 20 miles will cost about $3 B.
Late-2006: Alternatives Analysis sets the cost at $4.6 B (this figure and all following figures include contingency funds).
Spring 2008: Hawaii legislature approves a 0.5% tack-on to Hawaii’s GET tax that applies to every transaction. Against expectations, Republican Governor Linda Lingle opted to save her political career and let the rail tax stand without a veto. The rail is expected to generate about $2 B. The gravy train has thus been established.
Summer 2008: Mayor Hannemann up for reelection gives a helicopter ride to Senator Oberstar who then says that the Feds will give Honolulu $900 M. Hannemann declares that “the train has left the station.”
2008: The author runs against Hannemann in a three way ray, garners 17% of the vote, and forces Hannemann to the general election which he won. The public is deluged with city, union, Hannemann campaign and FTA-approved “Light Rail” commercials, emails and letters, and a 50.6% “yes to rail” is obtained. Hannemann’s was clearly an rail project financed campaign.
2009: Rail’s budget cannot pass scrutiny – President pro tempore Senator Inouye of Hawaii joins the rail party. FTA is strong-armed to pay $1.55 B.
2010: Four years after the Alternatives Analysis was completed, and three years after the start of tax collection, the project has no environmental clearance, no cultural resources clearance and no robust budget. During the elections, a referendum to create HART is approved. Hannemann quits, runs for governor and loses. A three way race for the remaining term for mayor among Carlyle, Caldwell and the author is won by city prosecutor Carlisle.
2010: The cost is up to $5.4 Billion not counting the expensive Airport Runway proximity error; $150 M realignment is necessary to avoid coming near a major runway. Nobody is punished for this error that HDOT had informed the city in advance. Costs were “absorbed” by contingencies.
2010: Outgoing Governor Linda Lingle releases an independent financial analysis of the project by IMG and Thomas Rubin which concluded that construction cost will likely be more than the $5.4 B projection, ridership projections were both very high and would require passenger loads significantly higher than that of any U.S. transit operator, future rail renewal and replacement costs were ignored, operating subsidies were significantly understated, and many projected revenues were significantly overstated. Mayor Carlisle dismissed the report as “a product of rail opponents.”
2011: Mayor Carlisle performs a “ceremonial groundbreaking” but only utility relocation occurs afterwards. The project still aims for a 2019 completion.
2011: Mayor Carlisle claims a steel price reduction due to the slowing of the Chinese economy and the project’s budget drops to $5.17 B. However, at this point the budget language has changed and the “unallocated contingency” is only about $300 M. FFGA is signed at year’s end.
2012: Both a NEPA and a Hawaiian burial ground desecration lawsuit are filed, the former in Federal court the latter in State court. Only the second lawsuit causes construction restrictions in areas where archeological surveys had not been done.
2012: Construction accelerates at the casting yard and the first piers appear in the middle of prime agricultural land. The first four miles of the project are on agricultural land. Carlisle loses in the primary. Two Democrats, Kirk Caldwell (pro rail) wins the mayor race over past governor Ben Cayetano (anti rail.) Although some frame it as another victory for the rail project, Cayetano’s battles with unions during his eight years in the governor’s office were a major cause for his loss.
Mid-2014: 9th Circuit court appeal ends unsuccessfully for the plaintiffs of a NEPA-based suit.
December 2014: HART reveals a $910 projected deficit and asks and gets for more tax monies.
December 2015: HART proposes to open 10 miles of rail service in 2018.