More Honolulu Rail Follies
by Randall O’Toole, The Antiplanner, October 18, 2021
You don’t hear much about Howard Hughes anymore, but he — or, more precisely, a real estate development company named after him — is helping to delay completion of the Honolulu rail line, the $12 billion project we love to ridicule. Hughes is the midst of developing a master-planned community called Ward Village that’s smack in the pathway of the rail line, and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) says it wants two acres for the line.
Hughes is willing to sell the land to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART), but there is a teensy disagreement over the value of the land. HART offered Hughes $13.5 million; Hughes thought it was worth “about” $100 million more. HART is attempting to take the land by eminent domain, leading Hughes to counter sue, asking for $200 million in damages. HART has already approved $23 million to pay its legal fees in the eminent domain suit.
I wonder if HART is trying to pull the same fast one that Denver’s RTD tried, which was to claim that the rail line would increase the value of the remaining property so landowners should be willing (or forced) to sell the land needed for the train for less than market value. Hughes, however, will probably argue that the success of its development makes the remaining land in the development even more valuable.
HART seems to have annoyed lots of people, including its contractors. A few months ago, HART discovered that the wheels on the cars it ordered from Alstrom are too narrow for its tracks, forcing it to slow speeds to 5 miles per hour at switches. Naturally, that called for another consultant report, which was just submitted to HART.
Or so says the consultant. HART claims it never received the report. “Your story is all wrong,” said HART when a reporter asked about the report. “We will provide you the correct information.” The next day, HART told the reporter, “Thank you for the opportunity, but HART will not be responding.” Even later, HART said the report it received was a draft and it won’t release it until the final comes out.
The report is fairly important because, if the consultant says the trains will have to slow at all switches, HART will have to replace all of those tracks, which would delay the project by another year. The alternative is replacing all of the wheels on the trains, but that would increase the weight of the trains by more than the elevated lines could support.
Meanwhile, the cost of the rail project has gone up another $34 million thanks to unanticipated utility relocation costs. HART says the higher costs were based on new safety standards, but the Hawaiian Electric Company says it was due to inept work by HART and its contractors. What does $34 million matter anyway, when it is part of a $12 billion project?