( May 11, 2012 - Opinion Editorial by Connie Lau & Richard Dahl in the Pacific Business News )
Pacific Business News has diligently covered the progress of Honolulu’s rail transit program and we appreciate the sentiments expressed in PBN’s April 27 editorial (“Move Oahu Forward’s lasting impacts may not be rail related”). As the editorial points out, Oahu’s business community can and should make its voice heard on a wide range of issues. Perhaps our efforts can spur that on.
We would like to be clear, however, that our goals go far beyond simply raising funds. Our goals are to question and evaluate the facts surrounding rail and insure that the public hears solid and accurate facts that we support.
We are, in fact, actively engaged in the public conversation about rail transit because we believe that a comprehensive transportation system can have a tremendous effect on the lives of our customers, our employees and businesses throughout the state.
We have been moved to act so that credible, factual and understandable information is available to the people of Oahu about rail transit. One way we can do this is by bringing an economic perspective to this anxiety-causing question: Can Oahu afford to build the 20-mile elevated rail system?
As businesspeople, we say yes.
We have examined the most recent rail transit financial plan and have concluded that it is a viable plan we can afford. There is a dedicated funding source in the GET surcharge that has already received more than $858 million dollars, eight million more than projected in the rail program’s financial blueprint.
Federal funding is the other revenue source and there are strong positive indications that the City will receive $1.55 billion in federal funding. The project has already received $120 million in federal funds and President Obama’s 2013 budget pledges another $250 million increment. Most importantly, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and our congressional delegation are championing the rail project in Congress.
The additional mechanisms of the rail financial plan hit the mark as well. A built-in contingency fund of more than $800 million will protect the public from cost overruns. There are normal levels of short-term borrowing during the construction phase, along with sound plans to repay the funds and interest which will result in a project completely paid for and with zero debt in 2022 when the GET surcharge ends.
This is not a new conversation for Hawaii’s business community. The Hawaii Business Roundtable has given the rail project a clean bill of financial health in the past. The current financial plan is actually stronger than earlier versions because, now that contracts have been signed, there are fewer unknown costs.
We are determined to bring information about rail to a wider audience. We are working with reporters and editors to offer our perspectives. We will continue our review of the rail project’s financial plans and we will share our findings. Finally, we will give voice to the thousands of employees we work with whose lives will be made better by a comprehensive transit system with rail as its backbone.
Forums like PBN are important to the community conversation about rail and we look forward to continued dialogue.