HART board approves new Honolulu rail plan for shorter route

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The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s board of directors on Friday approved a proposed new stimulus package for the ailing city rail project that envisions a shorter rail line that ends on South Street and would cost nearly $10 billion. .

HART Executive Director Lori Kahikina stressed that the city remains committed to extending the rail line to central Ala Moana, as the city has planned and promised for the past decade, but after years of cost overruns, HART doesn’t have the money right now to do it. goal.

The Federal Transit Administration, which has pledged $1.55 billion to help fund the rail project, has set a June 30 deadline for the city to produce an acceptable stimulus package. The plan will now be submitted to the Honolulu City Council, and Kahikina said she hopes the council’s transportation, sustainability and health committee will take it up on May 24.

The new stimulus plan released by HART last week would shorten the rail line by 1.25 miles to suspend construction at the corner of Halekauwila Street and South Street, which is about a block from Waterfront Plaza and the Honolulu Building Short circuit. A station known as Civic Center Station is planned for this site.

The new stimulus plan would allow the city to complete the rail line to South Street, but the trade-off would be less robust ridership. The city is determined to continue the line to Ala Moana when more money becomes available. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The stimulus plan would also postpone the construction of a planned 1,600-space parking lot at Pearl Highlands, which was supposed to provide a convenient place for rail riders in central Oahu to park their cars before boarding the tracks for get to town.

The parking lot would cost $330 million — far more than comparable structures — because the city’s plan was to build it in a floodplain that would require foundations that stretch aerially over a creek, according to the recovery plan.

The shortened line envisaged in the new stimulus plan would reduce the number of people who will use the train each weekday by almost 30% compared to ridership projections developed more than a decade ago, before construction began. of the project.

Ridership originally forecast for the full 20-mile line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana was 119,600 boardings per day, but HART now estimates ridership would drop to around 84,000 per day if the line is shortened and construction two stations, including Ala Moana. is deferred.

The HART board was told Friday that the city is planning two major bus routes to serve the proposed new terminus at Civic Center Station so riders can quickly switch from train to bus to continue to University of Hawaii Manoa and towards Waikiki.

This drop in ridership means rail will have less of an impact on city traffic than originally anticipated, and longtime rail critic Cliff Slater told HART’s board on Friday that the plan was “deeply flawed.” .

Even the reduced ridership estimates still don’t take into account recent changes in transit ridership, which were declining even before the pandemic, he said. ALE data shows ridership in Honolulu was down 40% in March compared to March 2019, and “that shortfall needs to be filled, not ignored,” Slater said.

There has been a permanent change in people’s work and travel habits “since it was discovered during the pandemic that workers and businesses could benefit from people working from home”, a- he declared. “These people will no longer travel by bus or train.”

Other rail systems have had ridership much lower than forecast, and Slater suggested the Honolulu system may have ridership that’s only 20% of HART’s forecast. “If you think that (is) impossible, did you ever think in 2008 that we would have cost overruns such as we had?”

When the city signed a full funding grant agreement with the FTA in 2012, the rail project was budgeted at around $5.2 billion for 21 stations and the full 20-mile overhead line from Kapolei to Ala Moana. The latest stimulus cost projection is $9.93 billion for the stub rail line.

Roger Morton, director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, said HART and DTS worked together to make the latest ridership estimates, and those estimates will be reviewed by the FTA. The impact of the pandemic has not been factored in, but bus ridership is picking up, he said.

No one has yet quantified the long-term impact of people continuing to work from home, Morton said, but he did note that traffic has picked up on the freeway. He said ridership in Honolulu has recovered “faster than in many cities.”

Council members raised various questions about the details of the latest financing and construction plan during the four-hour meeting.

Kahikina said that “we are committed to going to the Ala Moana transit center. We are only truncating the construction of this part of the project to help unlock the remaining $744 million” in federal funding.

The FTA has withheld nearly $744 million of the money committed to the project since 2014 until it receives an acceptable stimulus package from the city. HART submitted versions of an earlier stimulus plan in 2018 and 2019, but that effort proved impractical after a public-private partnership solicitation failed to complete the rail line in 2020.

HART’s board voted 7-1 in favor of the latest stimulus package, with only board member Mark Howland voting no. Howland said he thought the plan was incomplete and asked the board to postpone the vote until the plan was revised to resolve technical issues raised during the discussion.

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