Wait for U.S. cash will not stop transit
Construction can start during grant process, councilmembers say
The city can break ground for the planned mass transit system in 2009 while continuing the application process to obtain federal funding, members of the City Council say.
"You can actually proceed without federal funds, but ... you're going to end up paying for the work," said Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, acknowledging that the city could use the revenues from the newly imposed 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to begin construction.
"That is possible, and there is a possibility of being reimbursed," Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said.
Debate over whether Mayor Mufi Hannemann would be able to meet his goal of breaking ground by 2009 came about after Gov. Linda Lingle talked with U.S. Department of Transportation officials last week.
"They consider three years an expeditious review period between when they receive an application and when they make some sort of a decision, and they have not received an application yet," Lingle said yesterday. "I asked them has there ever been one shorter, and they said no."
City Council members met yesterday with Federal Transit Administration officials in Washington, D.C.
Dela Cruz said that based on what FTA officials told him, the governor is also correct because officials said that the earliest a full funding grant agreement could come about is 2010.
But he said officials also told them it is possible for the city to move forward with the start of construction while the funding application process is ongoing as long as the city receives from the FTA a "record of decision" -- approval to move forward.
Dela Cruz said that while the schedule is aggressive, officials said it is still possible to make the mayor's goal.
"Other places, even though they didn't have their full funding grant agreement, they would use, like, demolition of bridges or clearing of easements -- that's what they would consider a groundbreaking," Dela Cruz said.
Councilmembers were told that it has taken anywhere from just more than two years up to 8 1/2 years to get a record of decision.
Officials pointed to Honolulu receiving a record of decision in just more than two years for the first segment of former Mayor Jeremy Harris' planned bus rapid transit, which also began construction before the federal process was completed.
In the end, the FTA declined to award the city $20 million in federal funds for BRT.
City spokesman Bill Brennan said he is not surprised at what the councilmembers were told on the time line.
"Our goal is to break ground by 2009," Brennan said. "We don't see why it wouldn't be (doable). We've never been told by anyone at FTA that it isn't."
Brennan said the city had awaited a decision on the first phase of the transit route, and now that the segment has been approved by the City Council, the "voluminous" funding application is expected to be turned in next month.