How Honolulu’s Rail Compares to Other Federally Funded Projects
It’s common for rail projects to have cost overruns, but few are as large as Honolulu's.
These numbers come from a July 27, 2021, policy brief, “Cost Overruns and Ridership Shortfalls,” written by Randal O’Toole, a rail critic and senior fellow specializing in land-use and transportation issues at the Cato Institute. O’Toole is also the author of The Antiplanner blog. His brief contains a list of 75 federally funded urban transit lines that were completed between 1986 and 2015. We asked O’Toole which projects would be the best to compare Honolulu with.
To download a PDF of the full list, click here.
O’Toole pulled the cost numbers from Federal Transit Administration analyses, which used different predicted cost numbers. Earlier analyses looked at the cost projections when agencies were comparing alternatives, like rail versus bus or highway improvements. More recent analyses took estimates made at the beginning of preliminary engineering, a much later stage, when other alternative modes have already been discarded.
He writes in his brief: “The only alternatives to be considered are different routes. With no competition from other alternatives, costs can be higher without overtly admitting that bus or some other mode might be better. Thus, one of the reasons why cost overruns appear to have declined in recent years is that the FTA is using cost projections made at a later stage in the process.”
Honolulu’s $5.057 billion predicted cost was the estimated amount when the project entered preliminary engineering.
It’s been a long journey for Honolulu’s rail project to get to where it’s at today. The next two sections of this story look at that journey and identify some of the project’s major milestones. Later, we’ll tell you why some of the rail columns have engravings.
Up Next: We tracked some of the project’s major milestones, including cost increases, funding deficits, lawsuits and voter input. Click here to read more >>
Honolulu has talked about building a rail system since 1967. Click here to read more >>
Engraved columns depict legends and unique elements of each station area. Click here to read more >>
Back to the Beginning: We sorted through more than a decade of cost overruns, audits and reports to explain how the price soared and why completion fell behind schedule. Click here to read more >>
Go Back: We looked through the project’s publicly available documents to identify the biggest contracts and how much they cost. Click here to read more >>
Interested in how the writer put this story together? Read “Inside My Reporting on Honolulu’s Rail Project” to learn about her process.