Feds ready to give Honolulu 30 percent of rail project’s cost

 UPDATED 7:19 AM HST Nov 20, 2012
FFGA 30 Day Notice Presser 2
HONOLULU -

For Mayor Peter Carlisle, news that the Federal Transit Administration is prepared to sign a $1.55 billion subsidy for Honolulu's rail project was like an early Christmas present.  The amount represents 30 percent of the project's estimated cost.

"This is the best holiday gift the citizens of Honolulu could possibly receive," a smiling Carlisle told reporters during a news conference at his Honolulu Hale office.

On Monday, the FTA announced a full funding grant agreement for the $5.3 billion elevated rail line had been forwarded to both chambers of Congress for a 30-day review. Once lawmakers in the House and Senate finish their respective examinations, the agency is free to execute the agreement with the city.

Dan Grabauskas, executive director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, labeled the FFGA a "done deal."

"The word we got today is we got the money, so it's on its way," said Grabauskas.  "Further I would say that once a full funding grant has been executed, never in the history of the Congress has it not been fully funded."

Carlisle doesn't expect pushback from Republican members of Congress since Rep. John Mica of Florida, who chairs the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has already signaled his support for placing rail in Honolulu. The mayor also had a message for rail opponents, who continue to fight the city in federal court.

"Rail is on the way," said Carlisle.  "We've got the money, (so) get out of the way."

U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima will hear arguments Dec. 12 in a federal court case that was filed in May 2011 by rail opponents, including losing mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano.  

On Nov. 1, Tashima issued a ruling that handed rail supporters a victory on all but three points. 

The judge said the city must decide how to lessen impacts of the rail project on historic Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako, and whether locating part of the rail line underground along Beretania Street has been adequately studied.  Tashima also wants the city to identify more culturally sensitive properties as the rail line enters the city center.  

Grabauskas said federal transit officials were willing to look past the remaining issues in the federal lawsuit because the FTA was satisfied with evidence presented by HART.

"We can accommodate the court's wishes," he said.  "We will have no impact to schedule and a minimal impact to cost as a result of the federal case."

The city expects the FFGA to be paid out over a period of five years, including a $200 million down payment once the document is signed. When the $1.55 billion is added to the $907 million collected so far through an excise tax surcharge, the rail project is on track to amass nearly 50 percent of the expected cost of construction.

Sen. Dan Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said congressional review of the FFGA marks an important step forward in funding for rail.

"The path to this agreement with the federal government has not been easy, but like the construction of the H-3 Freeway for Windward Oahu residents, and significant improvements to Kalanianaole Highway for East Honolulu, the rail transit project will bring welcome relief to West Oahu residents who spend too much time stuck in traffic," said Inouye.

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