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HART Rail Document Reveals 27 Alternative Plans to Complete Project

Catherine Cruz

A public records request from the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii uncovered a rail report that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit tried to keep confidential. In it is an analysis of 27 alternatives to the original plan including an underground tunnel and shifting the line to Nimitz Highway.

The troubled Honolulu rail planned to stretch from Kapolei to Ala Moana is projected to cost $12.4 billion, more than double the original projection. The 2008 estimate was $4 billion.

"A bigger issue is that the rail was supposed to be partially usable by 2018 and completed by 2020. Now the latest date is 2031, 10 years from now and I think that the public is very concerned as to why the costs have skyrocketed and the delays have been huge," said Keli'i Akina, president and CEO of the institute.

While the project faces funding shortfalls and delays, behind closed doors HART has been analyzing route and technological options that could help it complete the project faster and cheaper. The document from February 21 is titled "City Center Guideway and Stations: Preliminary Draft Qualitative Evaluation of Potential Project Changes."

Akina said transparency is important.

"The copy was marked confidential, not for distribution, which kind of puzzled us because there wasn't really anything confidential about it," he said. "The amazing thing is that there was careful analysis of 27 alternative paths, it looks like somebody was taking that pretty seriously."

Alternatives include terminating the rail at Middle Street and switching to bus transit; terminating at Middle Street and switching to a lighter rail system; creating a separate road-level rail system from Kalihi to Ala Moana; switching from traction power to Maglev technology; shifting the route’s alignment to Nimitz Highway; and tunneling the rail under Dillingham Boulevard to avoid utility conflicts.

With each option, a consistent reservation is the possible loss of federal funding from the Federal Transportation Authority--about $800 million. Nobody at HART has asked the FTA if they would actually lose that funding, Akina said.

"There's the fear that if another alternative was used, we'd have to pay that back," he said.

Whether someone is for or against the rail, people are concerned about the finances, Akina told Hawaii Public Radio.

"People need to know what the options are, what the costs are, and what the real future of rail looks like. That's the only way that the rail can recapture the trust of the public," he added.

This story aired on The Conversation on May 10, 2021.

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