Case 13.3 “Dear Mr. President—Please Cancel our Project!”: The Honolulu Elevated Rail Project
This case is a great current example of a very expensive project that was kicked off because of an assumed need—to relieve congestion in downtown Honolulu through an elevated urban rail system. Critics argue that in addition to having a ballooning cost, the actual planning was poorly conceived, leaving Honolulu with an intrusive and ugly rail system through the downtown area, ruining panoramic views, and impeding traffic. Additionally, advocates underestimated the power needs for the rail system, requiring the transport authority to renegotiate electricity fees for the system. Finally, the original costs that were assumed for the project were calculated during an economic downturn and with the economy booming again, the costs of the project have gone up dramatically. All of these elements points to a state Governor who is anxious to be rid of the project and hoping that President Trump will deny additional federal funding, in which case the project will likely be cancelled.
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Why are public works projects like the Honolulu Rail project nearly impossible to stop once they have been approved, even if later cost estimates skyrocket?
Project Management researchers have charged that many large infrastructure projects, like this one, suffer from “delusion” and “deception” on the parts of their advocates. Explain how “delusion” might be a cause of ballooning budgets in this project. How does “deception” affect the final project budget overruns?