How a Train Through Paradise Turned Into a $9 Billion Debacle
The project has tallied one of America’s biggest transit cost overruns; a grand jury is investigating
by Dan Frosch and Paul Overberg, Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2019 (excerpts)
… More than a decade after inception, having spanned the tenures of three mayors and three governors and outlived its most powerful benefactor in Congress, the project is only half built. Hopes it might transform the crowded island city anytime soon are fading.
Among the cascade of problems: Honolulu pushed ahead before fully planning the project, and nearly 100 contracts had to be reworked, causing delays. The city began construction before fully checking Native Hawaiian burial grounds, and a judge halted the project for over a year. Planners built too close to power lines, so Honolulu must shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to move them.
Dogged by such blunders, the project has seen its price tag soar to more than $9 billion from about $5 billion. The cost overruns are among the largest that transportation experts say they’ve ever seen. The cost has led to an extra excise tax on businesses, which can affect the price of goods and services, and it has hit tourists through an expanded hotel tax.
The federal government has long since suspended payment of its share of the budget. And a recent state audit said officials misled the public about the train line’s shaky finances.
A federal grand jury is now looking into the project. Last month, the municipal body overseeing it received three subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney for Hawaii, demanding files on consultant contracts, correspondence with agencies, relocation payments and other records. Federal officials haven’t disclosed the focus of the sweeping probe, which involves the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Honolulu’s elevated rail line shows how badly municipalities can stumble in tackling giant infrastructure projects, especially when they’re powered by political urgency. This account is based on interviews with current and former local and state officials, along with a review of documents….
read … The Wall Street Journal
ILind: WSJ article examined Honolulu’s rail debacle
Cataluna: The only thing our officials could offer in their defense was that the feds never told them they were doing anything wrong — so they just kept going.