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Honolulu rail project CEO to be replaced

HONOLULU — The board of a semi-autonomous Honolulu agency in charge of building a light rail project to connect the island of Oahu has decided not to renew the contract of its CEO.

The Honolulu Authority of Rapid Transportation board voted Thursday to move on from CEO Andrew Robbins and find a new leader to take over planning for the project, which has faced major roadblocks since construction began in 2011.

Contract negotiations have begun to appoint a new interim CEO and president starting Jan. 1.

The $5.5 billion budgeted in 2011 for the 20-mile (32-kilometer) rail line has ballooned to $9.1 billion. Officials are worried the total may increase even more. Around the time of the most recent estimate, HART predicted that tax revenues dedicated to constructing the rail line would generate $423.5 million less than expected over the next decade because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The project is now estimated to be finished in 2033, eight years after initially scheduled, according to estimates sent by Mayor Kirk Caldwell to the Federal Transit Administration in November.

The new CEO and president would be the Honolulu Authority of Rapid Transportation’s seventh leader since voters approved the rail line a decade ago.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser had previously reported that Robbins had disagreed often with Caldwell, City Council Budget Chairman Joey Manahan and a majority of the HART’s board over how the project should proceed.

Caldwell and Robbins in particular had a public falling out in August when the mayor said the city would no longer help in a two-year effort to find a builder to finish the final 4-mile (6-kilometer) rail segment into Ala Moana.

The mayor is concerned at the prospect of losing $250 million in Federal Transit Administration money that is scheduled to expire at the end of the year if the city does not show it has a viable plan to build the last segment. Caldwell sent the FTA a seven-page letter in November asking them to give Honolulu another year to come up with with a financing plan before the agency decides to cut the city off from the money.

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