Over the next several years, the Banana Patch area of Pearl City will be transformed into a transit station for Honolulu's $5.3 billion rail project. Known as the Pearl Highlands station, it will feature a multi-level park and ride with 1,600 stalls at an estimated cost of $173 million.
"We'll also have a dedicated off-ramp coming down the H2 (Freeway), coming right into the station and the garage," said Dan Grabauskas, executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which is overseeing construction of the 20-mile long elevated rail line.
All told, there will be 4,300 parking stalls at four of the 21 rail stations: East Kapolei, UH-West Oahu, Aloha Stadium and Pearl Highlands. With an average of 116,000 weekday riders predicted by 2030, the number of stalls currently planned is not enough, says Councilman Joey Manahan, a rail supporter.
"I have asked for more park and rides, or more stalls for park and rides," said Manahan.
The Pearl Highlands Park and Ride will feature six bays for city buses and Grabauskas said HART is reaching out to private land owners to possibly add more parking along the route from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
"The real goal is that we hope you'll actually be totally public transportation oriented and you'll hop the bus…come to the rail station and then hop on board," said Grabauskas.
Meanwhile, in addition to a parking crunch, the rail project is facing a cash crunch. HART has enough money on hand to issue a contract for the Pearl Highlands Park and Ride later this year, but future contracts will depend on the willingness of City Council members to issue general obligation bonds.
The transit authority is asking for $1.56 billion in general obligation bonds to cover its capital budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
"We have enough cash to build the project and pay off all our bonds, but cash flow, for those who understand that, there will be times when we have to pay out more than we actually have in the bank temporarily, so we borrow while we go through that process," explained Grabauskas.
According to a bill (Bill 79, CD2, FD2) passed by the council in December, 2006 capital costs for the rail project are supposed to paid entirely with a general excise tax surcharge, interest earned on revenues and federal grant monies under a $1.55 billion full funding grant agreement with the Federal Transit Administration.
Council Budget chair Ann Kobayashi says the sheer amount of money being requested by HART is concerning, and she believes the transit authority's request violates the spirit of Bill 79.
"I've always voted against using property tax money for the rail project," said Kobayashi. "They say it's borrowed money, but if it's not paid back, I mean it's like asking every taxpayer to co-sign a loan for this project."
The bill that would allow the city council to issue bonds to HART (Bill 22) passed first reading Wednesday 9-0, but Manahan voted with reservations, a rarity when measures first come before the legislative body.
"That was never part of the plan," Manahan told KITV4. "We were only supposed to use the GET (surcharge) and the full federal grant agreement."
Manahan said the state's capital improvements budget totals about $2 billion per year, and he's concerned about the issuance of $1.56 billion in bonds, which will be backed by the full faith and credit of Oahu taxpayers.
"So, my concern with this is that we're using city funds, county bonds that are backed up by our property taxes without a payment plan to pay us back," said the councilman. "How do we know if we're going to be able to meet those obligations?"
Grabauskas said he's confident the rail project will finish on budget, and a memorandum of understanding will spell out the exact time frame for the city to be reimbursed following the sale of any bonds.
"In kind of the simplest terms, it's going to basically from our standpoint say, you'll borrow money and we'll pay it back with GET and with federal funding," said Grabauskas.