HONOLULU — Honolulu’s mayor on Tuesday said he would appoint former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to the board of the city’s rail line as the long-delayed and massively overbudget project faces a funding shortfall that could prevent construction from continuing to its original intended destination of Ala Moana Center.
Hanabusa will serve on a volunteer basis on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board, Mayor Rick Blangiardi told reporters at a news conference. She won’t accept a $924,000, six-year contract she was recently awarded by HART to serve as a consultant, the mayor said.
Hanabusa previously served on the board in 2015 and 2016, including part of the time as chair. She also worked on rail issues in Congress. As a congresswoman in 2012, she watched the Federal Transit Administration sign an agreement to provide the project with $1.5 billion in funding.
Blangiardi said he knows Hanabusa’s intellect, ability and knowledge of the rail project.
“This is a continuation of my promise to the people that as a mayor, I would surround myself with the smartest people, best thinkers, best doers, people who would embrace responsibility, hold themselves accountable,” Blangiardi said.
Hanabusa said the project needs to return to the point it was at in 2015 and 2016 when the public was convinced the rail line needed to be completed, even if they were “disgusted” with it.
“We have to begin with public confidence. We have to begin with people feeling that the answers will be there, it will be a transparent situation,” Hanabusa said.
She urged people not to lose sight of the goal to “get this project finished and get the people feeling like we didn’t waste their money.”
When crews broke ground in 2011, the rail line was expected to be finished by 2019 at a cost of $5.5 billion. It’s now estimated it will cost more than $10 billion to build, and the interim CEO said earlier this year it faces a $3 billion budget shortfall.
The U.S. government in December gave the agency a one-year extension on a deadline to detail its plans for building the final 4-mile stretch of the rail line that has yet to be built. HART must submit the plans by the end of the year.
The state auditor in 2019 faulted low initial cost estimates, inflation, project delays and unanticipated charges for the escalating costs. Officials have also blamed construction delays and financing problems.
Blangiardi said he has “no interest” in building the line up to Middle Street — a nondescript light industrial area 4 miles short of Ala Moana — and stopping there, which critics say may be all the city can afford.
The rail line was envisioned as a 20-mile commuter line connecting Honolulu’s western suburbs with the airport, Pearl Harbor, downtown and Ala Moana Center, the state’s largest shopping center and major bus depot. It’s been promoted as a way to alleviate Honolulu’s heavy traffic jams.
Hanabusa would replace Glenn Nohara, an engineer whose term on the board expires on June 30.