Hawaii Poll: Rising cost of rail project

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the city struggles to pay for Honolulu's controversial rail system, the latest Hawaii Poll explores possible solutions. The controversial project topped the list (19%) as the most important issue facing Oahu this year in the survey conducted by Ward Research for Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Traffic came in a close second (17%), followed by homelessness (15%) and the economy (14%). Education/public schools came in a distant fifth place (4%).

Paying for the most expensive construction project in the state's history isn't easy. Honolulu's $5.2 billion rail system now faces a budget shortfall of up to $900 million.

"We said from the beginning that there would be at least a $2 billion cost overrun. We said that from before they even started and I think we've understated it," said rail opponent Cliff Slater.

29% of those polled wanted to stop construction to solve the cost overruns. 27% of respondents favored extending Oahu's half-percent general excise tax surcharge past 2022. 25% wanted to trim the project by building fewer stops or shortening the length of the system. 12% preferred to take money from other city programs.

"We need to explain to the public what we're doing to control cost, maybe to reduce the size of stations, the right size, the value engineer - that means maybe we don't have to have all the pretty things," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The strongest demand to halt the project -- 37% -- came from East Honolulu. Folks in Ewa were the least willing to stop the work with only 12% calling for a halt. As for continuing the rail surcharge, 42% of respondents in the Moanalua-Pearl City region favored the idea, compared to just 11% of those in Leeward Oahu.

Caldwell asked state lawmakers to allow the city to extend the excise tax surcharge indefinitely to finish, extend and operate the system.

"In every city where they've built rail, as they're built, before they start and as they build it, highly controversial. When it's completed, people love it. They tend to ride it more than what's anticipated," said Caldwell.

"We're talking about taking ridership from 5% of the population to 7%," said Slater. "That's why traffic congestion is going to be far worse in the future than it is today, and the city says so... but you have to find it in the fine print."

The 20-mile, 21-station rail system from Kapolei to Ala Moana Center is set to be fully running in 2019.

Ward Research interviewed 403 Oahu residents from January 13 to 23 for the Hawaii Poll. The poll's margin of error is 4.9%.

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