Only 1.5 days into his new job as executive director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, Daniel Grabauskas promised a new era of openness about the city's controversial $5.3 billion rail project during.
"The transparency in the project has to be paramount," Grabauskas told reporters. "If we don't communicate and we don't share information, it engenders distrust."
As part of his pledge, Grabauskas said HART would place all 150,000 pages of the city's administrative record online at www.HonoluluTransit.com. The documents detail communications between city officials and the Federal Transit Administration concerning a lawsuit filed in federal court that hopes to stop the rail project.
"It is my intention and my promise and my pledge that I will be available to answer what questions I can," said Grabauskas. "We're going to make sure that whatever information that we have is available to folks."
The new HART leader met with staff on Monday, and one of his first orders of business was to put an immediate stop to the printing of coloring books and other rail related knickknacks. Such expenditures have angered some members of the Honolulu City Council who questioned whether taxpayer funds were being properly spent.
"He did discuss the coloring books, but I think that there's going to be a lot more in the budget that's going to have to be more fully discussed," said Councilman Stanley Chang. "I'd like for Mr. Grabauskas to justify every position that HART has."
Grabauskas also stated a draft response is being prepared that examines one of HART's more recent and controversial claims.
In mid-March former interim HART Executive Director and CEO Toru Hamayasu told Council members it would be cheaper to build columns for the rail project along North-South Road and tear them down later, instead of delaying construction altogether. Hamayasu explained that for every month construction is delayed, contractors can charge the city $10 million in change orders. To date, the city has paid $15 million to Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. after failing to meet construction deadlines.
"Building columns and then tearing them down afterwards is one of the crazier ideas that I've heard as a councilmember," said Chang, who has generally stood behind the rail project.
Grabauskas refused to comment on the lingering controversy over the rail columns until he's had a chance to review HART's draft response. "Until I have an opportunity to really see it," he said, "then I'd be premature to make any conjecture."
Grabauskas can expect to be grilled by Council members Thursday, when he goes before the Budget Committee chaired by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.
Grabauskas is expected to be asked pointed questions about the rail project's financial plan, which currently utilizes $300 million in Section 5307 federal bus funds, and a $450 million line of credit backed by city taxpayers.
"Whether it's the 5307 bus money, whether it's the line of credit that HART is asking for from the city, I think all of those are excellent questions that are still, as you know, unanswered today," said Chang.