Hawaiian $1 billion-a-mile rail boondoggle a warning to Biden ‘Build Back’ plan
by Paul Bedard, Washington Secrets Columnist, Washington Examiner, April 14, 2021
He loves trains and wants to spend $80 billion for rail projects in his $2.2 trillion infrastructure goal, but today, a top GOP lawmaker is flashing a yellow warning light at President Joe Biden’s plan, citing the example of a massive boondoggle and decades-delayed “shovel ready” project.
In the latest uncovering of federal pork for her "Make 'em Squeal" award, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst pointed to a long-delayed and over-budget 20-mile rail project in Hawaii to caution a rush to spend federal tax dollars freely in infrastructure projects touted as ready to go by local governments.
“This rail service began as one of those ‘shovel ready’ projects funded by the Obama-Biden stimulus program a decade ago. While never completed, it’s still digging a deeper money pit for taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Initially set to be completed in January 2020 for $5.1 billion, the 20-mile rail line now might not be ready until 2033 and cost at least $21 billion. And, Ernst said, to dig into the Biden spending plan, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation plans to spend $1 million on lobbyists.
With promises of infrastructure riches, lobbyists are working with state and local governments to rush their proposals to Washington for the Biden plan, which sets aside a small percentage of the $2.2 trillion for traditional projects, such as rail lines, roads, and bridges.
Just as former President Barack Obama did in 2009, so-called “shovel ready” projects are expected to be prioritized. Biden also wants them to be “shovel-worthy,” according to officials.
But Ernst is eager for the administration and lawmakers to look deeper at the projects before signing contracts.
Her concerns are rooted in other boondoggles she’s uncovered, notably California’s estimated $100 billion high-speed rail project that the administration has cited as an example of projects it wants to support.
Instead of Biden’s slogan of “Build Back Better,” Ernst said, “I vote we change the slogan to: ‘Bailout Bankrupt Boondoggles.’ That’s more appropriate for Washington’s track record of finding new ways to fund failed projects.”
And citing the Hawaii rail project’s failings, she pushed for the passage of her Billion Dollar Boondoggle Ban Act to stop federal spending on projects $1 billion or more over budget or five years or more behind schedule and the Earmark Elimination Act to stop lawmakers from spending on pet projects.
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April Squeal Award: Rail Project Taking Taxpayers for a Ride into Red Ink without Ever Leaving the Station
News Release from Sen Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, April, 2021
With Democrats cooking up a $2 trillion+ “infrastructure” bill, taxpayers are certain to be railroaded into paying for gravy trains that end up costing far more than promised but that never leave the station...
In fact, I have already called out California’s high-speed train that is going nowhere fast.
15 years behind schedule and $44 billion over the original price tag, this gravy train just signaled yet another delay that is sure to increase costs. And get this, the project is being praised by the Biden Administration as an example of how Washington Democrats plan to “build back better.”
I vote we change the slogan to: “Bailout bankrupt boondoggles.” That’s more appropriate for Washington’s track record of finding new ways to fund failed projects.
Another perfect example: The Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project. This train isn’t transporting any riders yet, but it sure is carrying a lot of baggage—and more than a billion dollars of your money!
This rail service began as one of those “shovel ready” projects funded by the Obama-Biden stimulus program a decade ago. While never completed, it’s still digging a deeper money pit for taxpayer dollars…
In 2009, local officials pledged a project goal of being “on time, on budget, and on schedule.” Well, I’ll let you guess how that worked out.
The 20-mile rail service was supposed to be completed by January 2020 and cost $5.1 billion. It’s April 2021 and only about half of the construction is done. Current projections show it might be finished by 2033, and the cost has also more than doubled to $12.45 billion. That adds up to nearly $120,000 per foot!
The state auditor recently concluded the schedule was never “practical or predictable” and “these promises would be contradicted by delays and cost overruns, which would break the project’s budget.”
Despite concerns with the city’s plans for the project, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) still committed $1.8 billion instead of stopping it dead in its tracks.
And get this: the off-track project received three congressional earmarks costing more than $65 million about a decade ago. Most recently, the pricey pet project picked up another $70 million from an earmark in the “COVID” stimulus package.
The mayor actually admitted that the real reason to start awarding contracts before the project was ready was because “the longer we delay, the greater the chance the money will go away.”
Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.
The rail agency now says it needs another $3.68 billion bailout to complete construction and plans to spend $1 million to hire lobbyists to get the inside track to secure more of your tax dollars…
More money won’t get this train back on the right track. The cost overruns and delayed deadlines are not the result of just poor projections and accounting errors. The rail agency is beleaguered with management problems, from excessive perks for its own executives, overpaid consultants, dangerous defects and design flaws in the train and tracks, and even potential criminal activity which is now being investigated by the Department of Transportation Inspector General.
For their wasteful work, my April 2021 Squeal Award goes to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation for taking taxpayers for a ride into red ink.
Now, let’s put the brakes on federal funding for this project—and others like it—once and for all.
I am calling on the Senate to immediately pass my bipartisan Billion Dollar Boondoggle Ban Act, which would make public every federally-funded project that is $1 billion or more over budget or five years or more behind schedule, as well as the Earmark Elimination Act that permanently bans Congress from steering taxpayers dollars to politicians’ pork projects, like the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project.
Do you have an example of government waste or inefficiencies that I should take a look at? Send me an email by clicking here.
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April 14, 2021: Another $800M For Rail? Don’t Count On It, Schatz Says