MAY 6, 2017

Fmr Gov. Cayetano Calls on President Trump to Stop FTA Funding for the Rail Project

by HFC Staff

Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano took out a full-page ad in the Washington Post asking President Donald Trump to terminate the Federal Transit Authority’s (FTA) Full Funding Grant Agreement with the city of Honolulu and to discontinue funding the remaining $800 million out of the dedicated $1.5 billion.

Cayetano urges the president to

terminate the agreement to force the City to consider less costly alternatives to the rail system. In his open letter to Trump, Cayetano appealed to the President’s common sense approach to scrutinizing wasteful spending on pork barrel projects.

“Massive cost overruns and inflated ridership projections are the norm in rail projects, but Honolulu’s 20-mile elevated rail system tops them all. Initially estimated to cost $5.28 billion, the projected construction cost is now $10 billion or $500 million per mile, the most costly in the world,” said Cayetano.

The former Governor -- who came out of retirement to run unsuccessfully for mayor in 2012 to stop the rail project -- said the project was driven by politics than by objective engineering and planning, adding that the City does not have the funds to complete the 20-mile system, “failing at least $3 billion short and six years behind schedule.”

The rail project current streams of funding come from $1.5 billion from the FTA (that Cayetano is calling on Trump to terminate) and $6.8 billion that is generated from the Oahu 0.5 additional surcharge on the state’s GET. That makes it $3 billion short of the estimated $10 billion that Cayetano points out in the ad. In 2012, city planners estimated the cost to be $5.2 billion. HART’s latest estimate is at $6.9 billion; the FTA’s figure looms around $8 billion.

“It (Honolulu’s rail project) has become a poster boy for how politics, incompetence, disinformation and outright lies are at the root of wasteful rail projects which do little for the public except raise taxes,” Cayetano wrote in his open letter.

Cost and aesthetics continue to be major sources of contention for the rail project. It has been the single-most important issue in several election cycles for Honolulu mayoral and city council races. Some political analysts believe Cayetano’s run for mayor against pro-rail candidate Kirk Caldwell in 2012 was stymied by former Sen. Daniel Inouye who pushed for the rail project and acquired federal funding for it. Cayetano mentions the late senator’s role in the project.

“The rail project exists today mainly because the FTA buckled under pressure from U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye who was then chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The powerful chairman famously declared ‘it would take World War III to stop the rail project!’”

Pro-rail Pacific Resources Partnership (PRP) and other powerful pro-rail unions poured multi-millions of dollars to support Caldwell. The former governor also was hit with one of the nastiest negative campaigns in that race in which Cayetano threatened to sue the now defunct PRP.

The rail project is projected to run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. It is an elevated rail line that runs about 20 miles with 21 stations. Some Hawaii residents suggest an alternative to save on cost would be to end the project in Kalihi. This would also preserve the beauty of urban Honolulu along the pier and beaches as well as free up funds to be used on other more pressing issues facing the city.

The ad in the Washington Post is paid for by the Abigail K. Kawananakoa Foundation.

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