Is the city paying too much for rail’s property acquisitions?

Text Alex Kekauoha

Honolulu’s behemoth rail project continues to take heat over rising costs and potentially dubious finances. As receipts for the multi-billion dollar project add up, it appears the city might be overpaying for one major expense—land. Public property records show large discrepancies between estimated land values and the price the city is paying to acquire the properties.

The city has a $222 million budget to acquire more than two hundred properties along the 20-mile rail route. The properties, many of them privately owned, will be acquired in order make space to build rail stations, columns and other rail-related structures. The budget also includes relocation assistance for property owners and potential legal expenses.

In February, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) released its Acquisition Summary, a breakdown of all the properties it had purchased up to that point. The list includes 34 parcels of land and their acquisition prices. Comparisons between those numbers and assessed property values provided by the City and County of Honolulu’s online real property records search reveal differences in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total property assessed values include both the land and the existing structures.

Most of the properties have values that are far below what the city paid for them. The first property on the list is 2676 Waiwai Loop, acquired for $4,924,144. But public records show the total property assessed value to be $4,249,800. In other words, the city may have overpaid by nearly $675,000. The property next door, 2668 Waiwai Loop, was purchased for $3,918,089, but records show it’s valued at $3,320,700. That’s a difference of $597,389.

Similar discrepancies appear at properties across the railway route. Farther east, 1819 Dillingham Boulevard was purchased for $1,106,416, but records show the property is valued at $895,600—a $210,816 difference. The property next door, 1825 Dillingham Boulevard, was purchased for $984,299 but is valued at $784,800, a difference of almost $200,000.

It should be noted that the city does not guarantee the land valuation numbers are entirely accurate. After clicking the link for “Honolulu Real Property Records Search” on the county website, users are directed to a new page with a disclaimer: “No warranties, expressed or implied are provided for the data herein, its use or interpretation.”

Nonetheless, property searches on other real estate websites like show similar estimates. Representatives for HART did not respond to requests for comment regarding property acquisitions.


Summit is Hawaii's magazine of ideas and style for the global citizen. We're named for Queen Kapiolani's motto, "kulia i ka nuu," strive for the summit. Summit is available on fine newsstands throughout North America and the Asia-Pacific region.

2017 S King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Ikaika Hussey
Creative Director
Mae Ariola
Will Caron
Copy Editor
Karen Shishido
Assistant Editor
James Charisma