Mayor, council chair, HART CEO meet transportation leaders
"It was signed just days after the passing of our Sen. Dan Inouye in his appropriations committee room," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell from Washington, D.C.
It was that emotional and unwavering support for Honolulu's rail transit, a pet project of the late Sen. Inouye, that Mayor Kirk Caldwell hoped would hold, even after federal budget cuts to programs nationwide.
"What a better way to show our commitment than to travel 6,000 miles to be here. We want to make that message loud and clear," said Honolulu Authority for Rail Transit CEO and Executive Director Dan Grabauskas.
Grabauskas, Caldwell and Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin flew to D.C. to meet with transportation leaders and were greeted with support from both sides of the aisle.
"I think all individuals we've met have said this is one of the best-planned projects," said Martin.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised the Honolulu team, despite a $13.8 million cut, the money would be put back in upcoming years.
"It was very heartening to hear the U.S. Secretary of Transportation say you're going get all your money," said Grabauskas.
Caldwell said securing the $1.55 billion grant before sequestration was the key to ultimately keeping the money.
"All I can say is, man, we are lucky we had our full funding grant signed when it was signed. If we were on the other side of the equation now, it would be a very difficult time," said Caldwell.
Grabauskas said the budget hit shouldn't be a problem, with money from the state's General Excise Tax already buffering the project, but said they may need to borrow some to make up the difference.
"I think we’re all eager to get back to work as soon as possible," said Martin.
Caldwell said rail construction should start up again this fall.
A HART spokesperson said the city may need to start selling bonds earlier than expected to help pay for construction this year.
Wednesday, the Honolulu team will be meeting with Hawaii's congressional leaders in D.C. before heading to Hawaii.
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