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City leaders must finally address rail’s budget problem

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

The impasse between the House and Senate on how to capture more tax money for the City’s insatiable rail expenses is not a failure, but rather an opportunity for City leaders to pause and consider alternatives based on today’s reality.

The First Law of Holes states: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!

There is no doubt that rail spending is out of control. The cost of the project expanded from $5.2 billion in 2014 to nearly $10 billion less than two years later. By comparison, the entire City operating budget is $2.3 billion a year.

Think about that for a moment. The currently projected cost of rail is greater than four years of every other City expense combined. That is now the best-case scenario and presumes the final construction contracts thorough the most difficult segment, Downtown, will stay on budget.

After three extensions granted by the Federal Transit Authority, the HART Recovery Plan was finally published on May 1, 2017 with two options: Plan A would complete the full project for nearly $10 billion (If billions of additional tax revenues are approved), and Plan B would complete the project within the existing budget of $6.8 billion by deferring several stations and ending the line at Aloha Tower.

Meanwhile, a group of architects has proposed a third option to complete the project within the $6.8 billion budget by modifying the route and building the remaining segment at street level. Another group has long advocated for MagLev and a modern, more affordable alternative. The proposals from and MagLev advocates has been panned by rail proponents, who claim there is no option but to continue building elevated rail and all the stations, no matter how much it costs.

Returning to the sheer magnitude of the cost overruns, the City and the State cannot continue to increase spending on rail and still afford other priorities like cooling our schools, educating our children, upgrading sewer infrastructure, caring for homeless, maintaining parks and roads and all other governmental services.

I disagree with the characterization that the state failed by not approving billions more in taxes to fund the rail project. I do not agree that the only option is more, possibly permanent taxes. The rail project will probably be completed in one form or another, but adjustments will need to be implemented.

If the rail project is going to be completed, the Mayor, City Council and must finally address rail’s budget problem.

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