Honolulu Negotiates With Feds Over Light Metro Line

Plus Sydney could get second metro line, and more in our weekly New Starts.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for Honolulu's new rail line in February 2011 (AP Photo/Jaymes Song)

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Our weekly “New Starts” roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects worldwide.

Honolulu Responds to Federal Ultimatum With Pledge to Complete Light Metro
Railway Track & Structures reports that after two days of talks, Honolulu officials assured the Federal Transit Administration that the city’s 20-mile elevated light metro line, now under construction, would be completed for its entire distance and that they would submit a “recovery plan” for the project. The city in turn asked the feds for a little more time to submit the plan beyond an end-of-year deadline the FTA had set.

According to a news story in Honolulu Civil Beat, both current Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his November election challenger, Charles Djou, both expressed their commitment to see the behind-schedule and way-over-budget project to completion, but proposed stopping construction at Middle Street for the time being and finishing the line eastward from there to Ala Moana Center via downtown at an unspecified later date. The FTA shot down this idea during the talks.

“Our federal partners made it clear that pausing the project at Middle Street is unacceptable and would risk all of the $1.55 billion owed the city” by the FTA, Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin said in a press release. “They also turned down our request for additional federal funds, citing 60 other projects around the country currently under federal contract.”

Thus city officials are now talking about turning to the state to close the funding gap in addition to finding ways to save money on the project, whose cost has zoomed from $5.3 billion at the outset to $8.3 billion now. The state currently has a $1 billion budget surplus, some of which could be dedicated to the rail line, Martin wrote in a letter to Gov. David Ige. On top of that, Martin also suggested that the state no longer needed to hang onto 10 percent of the revenue from a general excise tax surcharge that is providing the lion’s share of the local funds for the project.

The city has agreed to a review of the project by a panel of transportation experts and will produce an updated financial plan by the end of the year while the FTA decides whether to extend the deadline for submitting a revised plan for completing the line.

According to the International Railway Journal, the line will open from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium in 2018 and the segment from there to Ala Moana will open in 2021.

Plans Announced for Second Metro Line for Sydney
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the New South Wales state government plans to build a second metro line connecting Sydney’s western suburbs with communities to the east and southeast of the city center.

Sydney Metro under construction (Photo by Mqst north)

The line is not yet part of Transport for New South Wales’ master transportation plan but is expected to be included when an updated version of the plan is released next year.

The line would run from Parramatta in the west through Strathfield to the city center and most likely continue southeast to Maroubra and Long Bay. A future extension westward could take the line to a proposed new airport at Badgerys Creek.

In addition to serving redevelopment areas just west of Sydney’s central business district, the line would provide relief for the increasingly congested regional rail lines between central Sydney and Parramatta.

The improvement, however, could come at a cost — specifically, scaling back an already-planned light-rail line from Parramatta to Strathfield via Olympic Park.

Talk of an east-west metro line for Sydney has surfaced before, with the first proposal being floated in 2001.

In addition to relieving overcrowding on the suburban services to Parramatta, the line is seen as crucial to the success of government agency UrbanGrowth NSW’s plans to redevelop the Bays Precinct just west of central Sydney. UrbanGrowth NSW’s chief executive officer has said the project would be a “disaster” without new public transportation.

The metro currently under construction between central Sydney and its northwest suburbs, including a tunnel under Sydney Harbor, is underway and should open by 2019, with an extension through the city center to Bankstown complete by 2023. This first metro line will operate via the existing regional rail lines from Epping to Chatsworth and the city to Bankstown.

Twin Cities-Area Governments Cobble Together a “Plan B” for Southwest LRT
Looks like the Southwest LRT line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie will get built after all. Railway Track and Structures reports that three metro- and county-level agencies will chip in to fill the $144.5 million hole in the local funding commitment needed to unlock the more than $900 million the Federal Transit Administration will provide to pay for the line’s construction.

The Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities voted Aug. 31 to authorize the issuance of $103.5 million in certificates of participation in the project. Additional contributions of $20.5 million each from Hennepin County and the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) on top of the certificates will close the funding gap.

The Met Council will issue the certificates in July 2017, giving the state legislature time to meet to consider authorizing state funds for the project.

Under the terms of the federal grant agreement, the U.S. government will cover half the line’s projected $1.858 billion cost. The $144.5 million funding package also covers $9.8 million in delay costs incurred when the legislature punted on state funding in May.

Know of a project that should be featured in this column? Send a Tweet with links to @MarketStEl using the hashtag #newstarts.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: transportation spendinglight rail

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