Honolulu Mayor Confident Feds Won't Pull Rail Funding

May 16, 2019

Credit Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the city's $9.2 billion rail project isn't in danger of losing federal funds, so long as it builds all 20 miles of the planned transit line.

Caldwell made his comments after news broke Thursday that the Federal Rail Administration is pulling nearly $1 billion in federal dollars from California's San Francisco to Los Angeles bullet train project.

According to federal officials, California repeatedly failed to comply with its agreement and "make reasonable progress" on the rail system. The administration said California retreated from its original plan to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with a high-speed rail line, the basis for its federal grant funding.

The  project was scaled back after cost overuns and delays. Similar problems have plagued the Honolulu rail system as well.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom called the Trump administration's action "political retribution," illegal and "a direct assault on California," signaling a legal battle is brewing between Sacramento and the White House.

Newsom has had questions about the project and noted in his State of the State address that "right now, there simply isn't a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A."

Caldwell said the city can take a lesson from California. He said Newsom talked about shortening the system and the president responded to that.

"And now the president has actually acted," Caldwell said. "And I think it’s a valuable lesson to us, and to anyone else who has federal money for transit systems. And I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet on rail."

Some critics of the Honolulu rapid transit have called for shortening the rail route, possibly ending it at Middle Street. 

The city is under scrutiny by federal officials. A grand jury has subpoened Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation records and the Federal Transit Administration required the city to earmark $25 million in local funds this year in order to get the release of federal funding.