Covid-19 is, understandably, #1 on the news cycle in Honolulu these days. But we have a Primary election coming Saturday and I wonder if everyone will forget and forgive about the train cost and delay.
The local gadfly Panos Prevadouros — who’s probably a much better civil engineer and professor than a would-be politician — got some of it strikingly right in his long fight against the elevated train project.
When the cost was just $5 billion, he showed that even if it served 7% of Oahu travelers (the City figure) it would be an irresponsible expenditure.
Little did we guess that the final cost might be $10 billion and the finish date so far in the future that we might all be traveling by air cars or rocket packs by then!
And to think that we embarked on this project with just 50.6% of those who voted saying yes to it. Not exactly a resounding huzzah.
Yes, I supported it. Large cities need such mass transit. But I foolishly thought it would be $5 billion, much paid by the feds, and open while we still hadn’t built out Kapolei. We’d have affordable housing projects — not developers’ retail stores — by the stations. And a main station in Kapolei center, not in a field far, far away.
What happened? Everything that was not thought out, like the cost of relocating utility lines and what it would cost and how long it would take to acquire by condemnation the pass-through land coming into west Honolulu town.
Then there were the messed up contracts, the additional archeological surveys, the lawsuits, the arguments with contractors and the realization that the train could not possibly go through the airport to pick up some of our 10 million (at that time) visitors.
Then people started favoring stopping at Middle Street. In other words, Kapolei riders would come halfway to town on a train they caught by driving their cars to “Kapolei station” and then taking a bus into downtown.
Mufi Hannemann, who wants to be mayor again , was interviewed earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal and said: “I thought it was prudent to move quickly,” partly to show the Federal Transit Administration, which would provide part of the funding, that Honolulu was committed. “We needed to send a very strong positive message that the project was good to go.”
None of us understands why about 100 contracts for the project had to be redone. Why the design put the elevated guideway too close to power lines and required relocation of those lines.
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. Now, we don’t have that many businesses left in operation and only a handful of tourists. So away goes the excise and tourist accommodation tax.
Just the landscaping, moving those utility lines and grading some access roads cost $2.5 billion. It began to seem that many smart contractors were soaking in our excise tax and tourist tax dollars.
Even the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office apparently wonder if there was some illegal collusion with politicians or city projects chiefs, and we’re waiting for that shoe to fall.
Project supporters such as Hannemann, Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell put some of the blame on people who got a federal judge to halt the work for 13 months while more archeological work was done. But I’d ask why those burial concerns weren’t more of a red flag when this whole thing was still on a drawing board?
And with so many unanswered questions and “what ifs”, why did the Federal Transit Authority officials so quickly pledge us money for the train? Don’t they read blueprints and projections?
Why didn’t anybody here think to ask Hawaiian Electric about those power lines that would dangle dangerously close to the elevated guideway and have to be moved?
HART’s executive director, Andrew Robbins, vows to complete the project by the end of 2025. He said costs won’t exceed the current projection of $9.02 billion.
I don’t believe him. Not a single projection so far has been on target and a lot of invoices for work and expenditures seem to be missing. So the feds project only a 65% chance of the 2025 opening date.
And what former project chief planner Toru Hamayasu told the Wall Street Journal intrigues me:
“If we were out of step, you’d think the FTA would stop us, or the legal advisers within the city would stop us. And that never happened. Every step we made [was] with the acceptance and approval of the agencies who were watching over the project.”
Now the state wants to build a new stadium complex in conjunction with some private operators.
Watch for somebody to assure us this will be “on budget and on time.”