New Rail Authority CEO Meets with Federal Transportation Officials in Nation’s Capitol

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Daniel Grabauskas, HART CEO

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s newly appointed CEO Daniel  met with the head of the Federal Transit Administration and Hawaii’s congressional delegation this week to lobby for federal funds for the city’s planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail project.

Grabauskas, who starts his new job April 9, reviewed with the federal agency the city’s plan to submit an application for a full-funding grant agreement in an effort to obtain $1.55 billion in federal funds.


In a statement, HART said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff “reiterated recent comments made by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood underscoring that the agency is committed to the project and committed to the funding.”

U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, and U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, also reaffirmed their support for the project, HART said.

Rail critics also made their feelings know to the Federal Transit Administration this week.

In a letter to Leslie T. Rogers, Regional Administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, Region IX, University of Hawaii Law Professor Randall Roth, Retired Federal and State Judge Walter Heen, and Honolulu Transportation Expert Cliff Slater said the City of Honolulu’s elevated heavy rail proposal is “fundamentally flawed and for several reasons is highly unlikely to be completed.”

Roth, Heen and Cayetano, three of seven plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed in May 2011 challenging the validity of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement, outlined several reasons why the FTA should not support the project.

  • The plaintiffs expect to win the federal lawsuit;
  • The city’s financial plan is weak;
  • Public opinion has shifted against the project when the public realized that City officials misled them;
  • Gov. Benjamin Cayetano will likely be Honolulu’s next mayor – and he has promised to stop the rail.

They also expressed concern about financing: “Even if one were to assume for the sake of argument that the City wins the federal and state lawsuits, and that someone other than Gov. Cayetano is elected mayor, the risk of running out of money is still quite high.  The requested $1.55 billion in New Starts funding, for example, might have been a good bet prior to trillion-dollar federal deficits and exploding national debt, but much less so now.  Additional help from the State ceased to be a rational bet when the State’s finances took a nosedive several years ago.”

There are additional reasons why the proposed project will never be completed, they said.

“Key portions of the land on which HART proposes to build is classified and zoned agriculture, and contains the best agricultural land in Hawaii.  A proposed reclassification to urban use is being heavily contested in a quasi-judicial case now before the State of Hawaii Land Use Commission and the ultimate outcome of that battle is far from clear.  Also, the land needed for the maintenance facility may not yet be owned by or properly leased to the City, and there are open issues dealing with the site for the pre-casting facility and other construction areas.  Finally, if construction ever were to reach the downtown and Kakaako areas, the almost-certain desecration of native burials (‘iwi kupuna) would appropriately bring it to a halt.”

See the full letter from Heen, Roth and Slater here.