by Andrew Walden
Its not difficult to figure out what Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and HART Chair Colleen Hanabusa are planning.
After manipulating HART budget projections and refusing to file financial plans with the Federal Transportation Administration, Caldwell and Hanabusa have created yet another rail ‘crisis’.
The purpose is to again pressure the Legislature into extending the 0.5% GE Tax override for years to come. Caldwell has been claiming "HART Will Need More from Legislature” since at least 2014. This will be the third artificial rail crisis Caldwell has ginned up to push a tax hike.
On December 18, 2014 HART CEO Daniel Grabauskas began peddling the story that HART is running a $500M-$700M deficit. The purpose was to stampede the Legislature into granting a GE Tax override extension. Minutes of a HART Executive Session that day show HART Directors talking tax hike in private--not to overcome 'deficits' but as a measure to extend Rail to UH Manoa. At the time, Hawai’i Free Press pointed out Caldwell was “Creating a Fake Crisis to Push a Real Tax Hike.” Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann warned: “If the city pursues this ill-conceived tactic of crying wolf when there is no crisis, public support for the largest capital improvement project in Hawaii’s history will erode and jeopardize thousands of jobs, taking with them the added benefit of transit-oriented development.”
After securing passage of the GE Tax extension, Caldwell had to force recalcitrant Honolulu Councilmembers to implement it. What did he do? Same same. Hawai’i Free Press September, 2015 explains: “HART Invents New Billion Dollar 'Crisis' to Pressure Council for Tax Hike.”
Fast forward to the present ‘crisis’: At their June 8 Board meeting, HART directors outlined six options to deal with cost overruns. But political debate quickly shifted to a false dichotomy: Stop at Middle Street or Raise Taxes. Doing his job for the old-boy order, Richard Borreca in the June 12, 2016 Star-Advertiser writes: “If Caldwell or the Council is not going to choose between stated choices, such as building two-thirds of a system or building a fairly useless system without stations, the answer is to get more money from the state.”
The stage set, Caldwell June 16 announces he will build to Middle Street and work to “secure additional funding to complete the last five miles of the project to Ala Moana.”
Here are the options which Caldwell doesn’t want to focus on:
1) Cut deals with TOD developers to build stations at their own expense in exchange for adjoining development rights at: Hoopili, Kalihi, Kalapama, Iwilei, Chinatown, and Kakaako all of which are prime TOD areas.
2) Eliminate the Pearl Highlands Station or make its construction contingent on a TOD developer building it. LCC Station is only a few hundred feet away. A pedestrian overpass across H-1 to Pearl Highlands can be built using Hawaii’s unused federal transportation money, thus connecting the 1600-space park and ride space to the LCC station. Currently HART is suffering from $250M in cost overruns from Pearl Highlands alone.
3) Put rail on the ground with fencing to keep people and vehicles off the tracks for about 1 mile starting on the Diamond Head side of the Airport Station along the mauka side of Aolele Dr. Sell all the industrial properties HART was forced to purchase along Ualena St for $65M after the FAA informed HART the elevated system was a runway obstruction. Build a Lagoon Drive underpass with some of Hawaii’s unused federal transportation money in order to avoid grade crossing. Continue the rail route on the ground along mauka perimeter of Keehi Lagoon Beach Park. Putting Lagoon Station on the ground will save additional millions.
4) Avoid Dillingham Blvd HECO clearance problems by shifting the path of the elevated rail system to pass over the Honolulu Community College campus instead of going down the centerline of Dillingham. This alone could save most of the $120M HART has budgeted for Dillingham utility relocations. It would also eliminate traffic problems caused by construction. Conveniently, a path exists through the HCC campus along the mauka side of Dillingham with only one and two story buildings and a student parking lot to surmount.
These changes would work—and that is the problem. Building rail all the way to Ala Moana would reduce the artificial sense of crisis that Caldwell so desperately needs to force Legislators to raise GE taxes again.
LINK: HART Route Map
Djou: HART Grab for City Loan Highlights Caldwell’s Untrustworthiness
Pine: Eliminate Some Stations Rather Than Shortening Line
Rail Funds Frozen? Feds Explain ‘Officially’ and ‘Unofficially’ What they Told Caldwell
HART Gives HECO $120 million—Says ‘Tourists’ Will Pay It
Up to 72% of Council Campaign Contributions from Hoopili and Rail
Will Feds Withhold a Third Year of Financing Before HART Gets Around to Writing Financial Plan?