Dan Grabauskas

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – No more coloring books, T-shirts, hats, lanyards, pens, pencils, backpacks and water bottles will be distributed by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation courtesy of city taxpayers to promote the city’s planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project.

That was the pledge by Dan Grabauskas, the new CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, the agency charged with constructing, maintaining and overseeing the city’s planned 20-mile $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project.

The coloring books, brought up by Honolulu City Council Member Tom Berg in a recent hearing, sparked outrage in the community from rail opponents who called them “propaganda.”  Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who is running for Honolulu Mayor and is opposed to the rail project, said in his 28 years in public office, he has never seen anything like it.

HART will safeguard the public’s money and ensure it is spent on the rail construction and maintenance, and not on promotional items, Grabauskas said.

“There are going to be no more coloring books. Period. I gave instructions yesterday to staff that we are to produce nothing that is not related to the construction of this project. Public information is going to be necessary, safety around construction, that kind of stuff, we’re going to spend money, but no coloring books are going to be produced on my watch,” he said April 10.

Grabauskas replaced interim director Toru Hamayasu, who has been criticized by the media, the public, and Honolulu City Council for his secrecy.

On the job since April 9, Grabauskas promised a new era of transparency, pledging to post all documents online and be responsive to questions from reporters, council members and the public.

“Transparency in the project has to be paramount. It’s something that I heard from the first days that I looked into this project, and it’s something that I heard from both our supporters and our opponents,” he said.

Some 150,000 pages of administrative record related to a federal lawsuit filed against the rail project last Spring will be made available in a searchable format on HART’s website, http://www.honolulutransit.com

The information already is on the plaintiffs’ web site http://www.honolulutraffic.com

HART will also include any agreements between city and state agencies, real estate acquisition plans, Federal Transit Administration including correspondence and more.

He’ll meet with Honolulu City Council members today in a special budget committee hearing on the rail project.

Grabauskas had no new information on whether HART will need to use 5307 monies from TheBus and Handivan maintenance funds over the next 7 years to fund the rail.

He also did not know or whether HART will actually allow construction to proceed on constructing the rail columns in phase one of the project, even though they may need to be torn down if the lawsuit is successful or if Cayetano wins the mayor’s election.

Hamayasu told council members last month it is cheaper to build the columns and tear them down rather than delay the project until August when the federal lawsuit is resolved. Hamayasu said every month there is a delay, the project costs $10 million more because of “inflation.” Grabauskas, like the city council members and the media, is waiting to see that financial analysis.

He also is waiting to see a breakdown of what jobs the rail will actually create and whether the city’s estimates are correct. The city claimed in its Environmental Impact Statement submitted to the federal government that the rail project will create as many as 11,680 jobs in 2012 alone, peaking at 17,270 next year. So far the city has not released what those jobs are and whether they exist or if they are going to mainland or local contractors.

The City EIS shows the predicted job count during rail construction

So far, the only jobs made public are 350 for Kewitt construction,  289 for Alsaldo and 82 at the city’s HART office. HART is increasing its employee count to 142 people in the next fiscal year, according to Hamayasu’s recent statement to the city council.

“The promise and the pledge that was made was that this is going to create jobs for everyone, and not just people like myself, frankly, who have come from the mainland, but people who live here. So I expect and would hope that I get regular reports,” he said.

Grabauskas also said the financial plan, which the city will submit to the federal government in hopes it will approve a $1.55 billion Federal Funding Grant Agreement, will be sent in this May. Originally HART’s Hamayasu said March or April.

The city will ask the council to include a $450 million line of credit for the rail project, up $100 million from the original plan.

Whether or not Grabauskas will need to increase his staff from 82 people to 140 plus as Hamayasu planned to do – and whether Hamayasu will keep his job as an assistant to Grabauskas – are questions that still remain unanswered. He was not ready to reveal any staffing plans on his second day of work.

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Malia Zimmerman is the editor and co-founder of Hawaii Reporter. She has worked as a consultant and contributor to several dozen media outlets including ABC 20/20, FOX News, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, UPI and the Washington Times. Malia has been listed as one of the nation’s top "Web Proficients, Virtuosi, and Masters" and "Hawaii's new media thought leader" by http://www.thewebstersdictionary.com Reach her at Malia@hawaiireporter.com