Rail operations center on-time as surcharge bill stalls
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Unlike the overall project, the operations center is being built on-time (80 percent complete) and is scheduled to be handed over to Ansaldo Honolulu, the project’s core systems contractor, in April of next year.
The operations center is where 80 train cars being built by Ansaldo will be tested along a quarter-mile track, and it’s also where the cars will be fine-tuned, repaired and cleaned. Honolulu’s elevated system is the first driverless train in the nation, and the operations center is also where all of those computer systems will be housed.
“What you have is basically four main buildings,” said Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas. “And from one room we’ll be able to coordinate and deploy all the trains throughout the system.”
But with a projected deficit of more than $1.1 billion, and a total cost approaching $6.5 billion, the rail project has become mired in politics.
Although Gov. David Ige approved a bill in mid-July that allows the City Council to increase the half-percent rail surcharge another five years, the Council hasn’t taken any further action on the measure (Bill 23) since it passed first reading on April 1. Caldwell and Grabauskas have been urging the Council to approve the extension to raise at least another $1.8 billion in taxes.
"We worked really hard to get the Legislature to act quickly, to give the authority to the county so that they could vote to extend,” said Caldwell. “It's not going to be a good situation if we're into the opening of the Legislature and we have not yet authorized the extension of the surcharge. I'm very troubled by that."
In a statement emailed to KITV4, Council Chairman Ernie Martin said there's no purposeful attempt to delay a vote on the rail surcharge extension, and the Council is exercising its due diligence, especially in light of the project deficit surpassing $1 billion.
“It is my belief that the State Legislature, in approving the extension of the GET surcharge, intentionally gave us until June 30, 2016 to approve the measure,” the statement went on to say. “For the Council's part, we intend to scrutinize every aspect of this project and seek assurances that proper cost containment and accurate reporting will be done. I don't believe any Councilmember at this time is willing to give the project a blank check to expend the full amount of the GET surcharge extension, which could be $1.8 billion to $2 billion."
With half of all contracts to complete the project yet to be awarded, the mayor said the city needs the tax increase to ensure the elevated rail line from East Kapolei to the Ala Moana Shopping Center can be finished.
"You have bidders who are starting to look to bid on the last 10 miles and we need that surcharge to be extended or there won't be money to pay them,” he said.
Martin, meanwhile, is still considering a round of island-wide meetings before the council takes any more action on the rail surcharge, but Caldwell questioned the usefulness of such an exercise if the outreach doesn’t remain on point.
“If it’s just a re-argument and rehash of why we don’t need to build rail and here we are with the maintenance facility at 80 percent, that train has left the station,” the mayor said. “But answering questions about why do you need the extra money and what about the increased costs … those things are all legitimate that we need to answer.”