Resolution 169, introduced by councilmember Ann Kobayashi, would establish a council policy to suspend any council approval for acquisition of real property along the rail transit line. According to the resolution, a June 6, 2016, Federal Transit Administration (FTA) letter sent to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) and the administration criticized the lack of cost containment on the rail project, which has increased from an original project cost of $5.2B to $8.3B.
The FTA has requested that HART transmit a "Recovery Plan" to the ETA by Aug. 7 to demonstrate that HART is taking every reasonable measure to mitigate the cost overruns and minimize the delay in opening the project to revenue operations.
HART has stated that much of the projected cost increase can be attributed to future construction costs of the rail line’s City Center section, which has risen from estimates of $703M in October 2015 to $866M in March 2016, and most recently to $1.5B in June 2016. Among the multiple options that HART is considering as part of its Recovery Plan response is to fully stop construction of the elevated guideway, at least for the foreseeable future, at the Middle Street station, which would eliminate most of the projected costs associated with the City Center section. Many long-time, family-owned small businesses in the path of the rail line have already been forced, or felt compelled, to vacate and sell their properties to the city because of the looming threat of rail project construction. The result has been decreased city revenues due to diminished property tax collections and additional cost to the city of maintaining and securing these properties.
As of June 16, 2016, HART was actively working on six eminent domain cases, including three in the City Center section, and examining another 55 potential eminent domain cases in the City Center section. City Council approval or rejection of any proposal from HART for the acquisition of real property by eminent domain is required by law. Given the uncertainty surrounding the rail project’s future construction activities to be proposed in the yet-to-be-determined Recovery Plan, city council considers all activities leading to the acquisition of further real property to be premature and unwise. The council also believes that by delaying or stopping the acquisition of real property for the rail project, the targeted property owners in the City Center section will be able to continue their family businesses and livelihoods, at least for the foreseeable future, and the city will benefit through continued real property tax collection and the elimination of maintenance and security costs associated with taking possession of these properties.
The resolution therefore calls for a City Council policy not to approve any further real property acquisitions proposed by HART for the rail project. The council urges the HART Board to suspend all eminent domain and other real property acquisitions, including taking possession of these targeted properties, in order to allow existing businesses to continue operations, and to allow the city to continue collecting property taxes and deferring maintenance and security costs that may ultimately prove to be unnecessary. The resolution passed out of the Budget Committee and will be heard by full council.