In June 2015, the Honolulu Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors was a body with serious concerns. The project had seriously exceeded its budget, management faced criticism for weak leadership and a lack of transparency, and about half the population still opposed the project’s completion. When Board member Carrie Okinaga stepped down to join the University of Hawaii as its general counsel, Mayor Kirk Caldwell appointed someone who knew would ask the hard questions: Colleen Hanabusa.
In making the appointment, Caldwell said, “I am confident that Congresswoman Hanabusa, with her decades of service as an attorney, Hawaii State Senate president and U.S. congresswoman, will closely monitor HART’s spending and safeguard taxpayer money.” Colleen, honored by the mayor’s appointment, committed herself to asking the hard questions, remaining independent, and keeping the rail project financially accountable.
The choice proved to be a good one, as Colleen immediately began digging into the numerous complex issues surrounding the troubled project. Her work so impressed her fellow Board members that when Board Chair Don Horner resigned in April,2016, they unanimously selected her to become the new Chair.
As Chair, she continued to make it her priority to return transparency and accountability to Honolulu’s rail project. Again, Mayor Coldwell was glad to have someone like Colleen to tell-it-like-it-is. "It may not always be good news," he said, "But we want to know what the news is, what are the real facts are."
Working closely with City Department of Transportation Services Director Mike Formby, Colleen pushed HART staff for more timely and reliable budget updates, as well as explanations for cost overruns and changes to contracts. Before leaving the HART Board, Colleen worked with Mike Formby (DTS) to change the governance structure of the Board via a Charter amendment approved by the voters. As a result, the HART Board now has the powers it needs to oversee this complex project.