Congressional Democrats’ Position on Honolulu Rail Transit

Mazie Hirono

By: T. Jeffersonian

Senator Mazie Hirono, Senator Brian Schatz, and Representative Ed Case express similar views that Honolulu City officials should beg for more money to help complete the Honolulu Rail Transit – the largest public works project in Hawaii history. Senator Schatz and Representative Case sit on their respective chambers’ appropriations committees who oversee funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and the forthcoming American Jobs Plan (a.k.a Infrastructure Plan). Both are $2 trillion plans from which Hawaii and the state’s residents are already expected to receive $6.1 billion. As it sits today, the Honolulu Rail Transit program has a $3.6 billion shortfall, is double its initial price tag (now at $12 billion) and probably won’t be completed until 2030 (double the initial completion timeline).

Hirono described tremendous cost overruns. She recently warned Honolulu City officials not to look to the federal government to provide the kind of funding needed to complete the rail. The Federal Transit Administration is already entered into a grant agreement with the City and County of Honolulu to provide $1.55 billion to the project, which right now is slated to run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center. Federal officials, however, have refused to release $744 million due to ongoing problems with the project including being the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. Further putting that money at risk are recent comments by Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, who recently suggested cutting the rail line short of Ala Moana to help reconcile the project’s $3.6 billion shortfall. A condition for receiving all the federal grant money was completing the full 20-mile line. The majority of Oahu residents agree that the entire line should be completed. 44 percent Oahu residents think the rail line should go all the way to Ala Moana Center as planned. Just 26 percent would prefer to end construction at Middle Street. Only 19 percent would settle for going a little further east to Aloha Tower downtown — a couple miles short of the full destination and skipping altogether the densely populated and growing Kakaako area. Though 53 percent of Oahu residents oppose the rail, the majority want to get what we have so far paid.

Hawaii is not an election battleground state. It is safely blue. We will miss out on the American Jobs Plan infrastructure spending. Pumping more federal money into the Honolulu Rail Transit opens their party up to accusations of pork-barrel spending and feeding corruption. There is no political return on investment for infrastructure spending here. Hawaii will receive money for minority jobs and money from the American Families Plan. This money will be meant to help Hawaii, but it will also be meant to help Democrats by pumping up their national percentages for helping poorer minorities nationwide. Temporary help to minorities is not a long-term investment. It does not provide a long-term return. It is a band aid, not a permanent cure. Temporary relief does not create job growth opportunities similar that created by completed roads, bridges, ports, airports, or rail lines. Such long-term projects enable the creation of ancillary businesses and leads to the creation of jobs and to an increase in worker wages far quicker. In Hawaii, there is a guarantee only that infrastructure projects will be delayed and overrun their costs and their timelines. That history plus the Democrats’ desire to shore up battleground votes is why the Honolulu Rail Transit will receive no more federal money.