Report: Rail project costs higher than projected

HONOLULU (AP) — A new report on Honolulu’s rail project estimates the price tag to be $8.3 billion, about $134 million more than the city’s projection.

The report from independent consultant Jacobs Engineering Group also indicates that the project could be operational by September 2026, about nine months later than originally projected by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The review was conducted on behalf of the Federal Transit Administration, which has withheld about $744 million of the $1.5 billion the agency promised in late 2012. The rest of the funding is pending a project-recovery plan for how the authority intends to address increasing costs.

The federal agency sought the recovery plan after the project’s costs increased from a $5.3 billion price tag estimated in December 2014. The authority’s recovery plan was submitted last fall, and the federal agency’s decision is pending.

Authority officials said they have a better grasp on the costs and that the price has not risen significantly since May 2016.

The new report “shows HART has gained control of the project’s costs” when a different method is used to estimate construction costs, said Damien Kim, board chairman of the Honolulu authority. The agency has already implemented recommendations from the report and plans to address others, Kim said.

The authority board is expected to decide this month on whether to seek a public-private partnership for the project, which should lead to better project scheduling and timing estimates, said Andrew Robbins, the authority’s executive director.

The additional costs are troubling to Randall Roth, a longtime critic of the project and a retired University of Hawaii law professor. Authority officials have been reassuring the board that no cost increases were expected.

“He may not think $134 million is a whole lot of money, but it’s an awful lot of money, especially because there’ve been so many increases in the costs already,” Roth said.