City Council, HART Have Heated Exchange Over City’s Planned Honolulu Rail Project

HART interim director Toru Hamayasu
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HART interim director Toru Hamayasu

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – There were several heated exchanges yesterday at hearing at the Honolulu City Council between Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi and other budget committee members and Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s acting interim director Toru Hamayasu and Chair Don Horner.

They were scheduled to discuss the Authority’s financial plan for FY2013, but City council members had many questions about the $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail system in addition to the growing budget for the Authority which oversees the rail construction and management.


Later this month, the city plans to begin constructing 50, 8-foot wide columns that are 200 feet deep in West Oahu. That is in the first 10-mile phase of the project.

Council members, who suggested putting a hold on construction, until a full Federal Funding Grant Agreement for the rail project is in place this October, and until a federal lawsuit against the project is resolved this August, were surprised to learn it is cheaper to erect rail columns along the first part of the rail route in Ewa, and have to tear them down, rather than put the first phase of the project on hold.

Hamayasu, who made this pronouncement, provided no evidence to prove this claim, or his assertion that every month of construction delays costs the city $10 million, though council members asked him to provide an accounting.

Councilmember Ikaika Anderson asked Hamayasu: “Just so I’m clear here, it would be cheaper to pay contractors to erect guideway columns and then pay them again to take them down rather than waiting until the full funding grant agreement it done?”

“That is correct,” said Hamayasu.

“How did we reach that conclusion?” asked Anderson.

“When you look at the delay claims and also inflation cost of the material and the labor of those items, it is cheaper to start constructing now,” Hamayasu said.

Anderson said city council members may issue a resolution asking HART to wait to begin construction until federal funding is finalized in October so local taxpayers are not left with the risk of paying for the entire rail bill. But HART does not have to agree to the delay.

Anderson said: “If we passed a resolution anyway would you stop your plans to go ahead with construction or would you defy our wishes?”

HART Chair Don Horner

“We’re doing what the charter said to do. If for some reason the council and the public have changed their mind, we’ll certainly abide by the public and the change of the charter and whatever you want us to do,” said HART chairman Don Horner.

The exchange between Horner, Hamayasu and Anderson grew more intense toward the end of the hours-long hearing.

Horner told council members he did not believe it was a good idea to wait, and while the pillars are symbolic, they are about $250,000 each, considerably less than the cost of the planning and preparation to put them there.

“To basically idle 50 subcontractors, and idle several thousand people, is what you’re asking us to do? Shut down all those people coming off the bench, you want us to tell them to go back to the bench, is that what you’re asking us to do?” Horner asked.

Anderson said: “I just want to be sure it would be more economically feasible to build the columns, pay for building the columns and then pay for taking the columns down. I’m also concerned that building the columns only to have them sit there and then be taken down could possibly be a monument of embarrassment not only to this council buy to the administration and HART.”

One of the assertions by Hamayasu is there will be 4,000 to 17,000 people working on the rail project while it is under construction, with an average over the years of 10,000. That number surfaced yesterday in hearings, but Hawaii Reporter has been unable to obtain any documentation on what those jobs will be, what the jobs will entail, who will be hired and how much they will be paid. The HART communication offices was asked several months ago to provide that to Hawaii Reporter, but so far it has not. Horner said yesterday by phone it is a number that consultants arrived at, and he has no access to what the jobs are or information as to whether that many jobs will in fact be created.

HART Salaries, Staffing in Question

Council Member Ann Kobayashi

HART plans to grow its staff from 87 to 142 people.

The rent for their premium offices in Alii Tower in Downtown Honolulu will rise from $1.7 million to $2 million a year.

Council members asked why HART, which is a semi autonomous rail authority, has to spend so much on rent in a private office building while space in city buildings is available.

HART’s travel budget is rising from $82,000 to $104,000 a year.

And there are the five public relations people on staff, which CIty Council Member Tom Berg questioned the need for.

The costs to condemn land for the project went from $90 million to $214 million.

Kobayashi said the council is worried about the increasing costs of the project and running HART.

There will be further budget review, but HART will take the money for its operations out of the money collected for the construction and operation of the rail from the state General Excise Tax surcharge on Oahu.

The Authority, however, may need access to other capital from the city budget to gain approval from the federal government for its financial plan for the rail, which Kobayashi pointed out is “weak.”

The city already has committed $2 billion in contracts to the project. But the federal government wants assurance the city has the capital to pay for this and the rest of construction before committing to funding by this October.

Federal Approval for Rail Project Could Hinge on Access to More City Capital

Councilmember Ikaika Anderson

HART must submit the application for the full funding grant agreement this Spring, and with it a stronger financial plan.

Hamayasu told council members yesterday that within two weeks, the city will be requesting another $100 million, or $450 million in total.

“Hypothetically what happens if the council says no?” Anderson asked.

Hamayasu said: “I think we have a problem with FFGA. I think we have a risk of not having the FFGA.”
So what if the city issues contracts and federal funding does not come through?
Horner said HART is not allowing any contracts to proceed unless it has the financial capacity to fund those contracts.

But Hamayasu said HART can cancel but the taxpayers will still be left with the bill: “If FFGA doesn’t happen we have a provision in the contract where we can terminate the contract, and of course the contractor will submit some sort of a claim, and we will wind up with some claim issues. But by right we should be able to cancel any contract.”

When Council member Tulsi Gabbard asked the cost, Hamayasu said that depends on what’s going to be claimed.

“My experience is that the claim usually matches the amount we have left,” Hamayasu said.

HART also potentially wants access to all of the city’s 5307 funds normally allocated to TheBus and Handivan for repairs and maintenance, which bothered several council members. If HART takes the $244 million for the rail, money for TheBus and Handivan would have to be found elsewhere in the city budget and could lead to an increase in fees and property taxes.

Anderson said that is an end run around a city ordinance that prevents the rail from accessing city funds.

The city council will hold another hearing with HART to further its probe into contracts and spending, Kobayashi said.





  1. Interesting as we get closer to elections, polls show Cayetano leading, citizenry more anti-rail therefore the Council more skeptical and highly suspicious/questioning of HART(intentions & actions) as should have always been the case in the sunny vote for their constituents best of intentions and needs. It is not always what is wanted that is granted, as is the case with as patriarchal concern, that is not the role of government! The role of government is to represent the citizen. Therefore dialogue with citizenry is a must through sunshine and open policies, as it is the citizenry that makes the ultimate decisions on all factors in government. HART has obviously cut its’ own throat in these matters, and BERG is correct is asking for the removal of the HART board, a return of the power base of Rail to the Mayoral Seat. When this is accomplished, in conjunction with the election of former governor Cayetano, the rail project as we currently know it, can cease, and transportation funding may have to be looked at for something more feasible on this archipelago, rather than the over-billed, high cost, 20 mile tourist trap speed tube that does nothing for the resident population. A mainland band-aid needs to stay on the mainland where mass transportation has traditionally taken second place to our paradisaical transit experience. Lets not lose that!-With a rapidly aging population, rubber hitting the road in paratransit and public private partnerships and Handivan is still a must! Buses are still a must. People that want to take mass transit and will take mass transit, ARE. Those that that would take the train, are taking the BUS! Plain and Clear, the Choo Choo will not solve the problem! The bus has not! It is available now and is also mass transit and is readily available, with a seat. People sit in traffic, whether on a bus, or in a car making no difference. Saving money, they chose the bus. Obviously many chose to waste money, and will do so when the choo choo is built. Do NOT build it. 5+ is a lot of money to waste.

  2. It’s endlessly tiresome and the most profound argument for smaller government that even an org like HART, installed to isolate the construction from self-serving behavior by Council and its cronies, is now working hard to achieve its major bureaucratic goal, namely the growth and perpetuation of a new bureaucracy. It’s now obvious that it’s staffed by political hacks who on the commission for all the wrong reasons — even if the insane train is ever built. Oh, and isn’t it ridiculous that train supporters look to the vote to establish HART as some sort of vote FOR the train instead of against the corruption we all know the train really means?

    BTW, I rode the Blue Line train in from O’Hare to the Loop the other day while on a biz trip to Obamaland. It’s slow because of all the stops, made even slower because it’s falling apart near the Damen stop and elsewhere. But after paying my $2.25 fare (saving me $45 in cab costs) I still looked heavenward and silently thanked the citizens of Chicago and Illinois for the $20 more they contributed to the actual cost of my ride.

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