Daniel Grabauskas‘ largest construction project as chief of Boston’s transit system was more than 30 percent over budget and a year late.

But the rail line had hit plenty of bumps before Grabauskas was in charge and the Honolulu official heading the committee that hired him says that the fact he was able to complete the project is a “testament to his ability to lead and execute.”

Grabauskas is the lone “finalist” to become executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which is responsible for building the city’s proposed 20-mile, $5.2 billion system. The 10-member HART board has already reached “consensus” and a vote to confirm him is set for Thursday.

Because construction management is such a key component of HART’s responsibilities for the next half-dozen years, the criteria for the executive director position said candidates “will have a successfully demonstrated track record of managing significant and complex capital projects, budgets, and operations.”

The job description says “experience managing capital construction projects will be a plus.” Under the heading “Business Acumen,” it says the executive director should have experience running an organization undertaking “significant capital construction projects.”

For years, the executive director position will be more about construction than operations. The first segment of the system is expected to open in 2016 — after Grabauskas’ three-year HART contract expires. Heavy construction is expected to begin next month. It will continue until the full line — from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Shopping Center — opens in 2019.

Grabauskas’ bio HART shared Friday said he led the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority “to pursue and complete several multi-modal transportation construction projects.”

But most of the MBTA’s transit network was already fully formed long before Grabauskas became general manager in May 2005.

Asked about major construction projects under Grabauskas’ four-year watch, longtime MBTA communications director Joe Pesaturo pointed to the 18-mile Greenbush Commuter Rail Line along Boston’s South Shore.

The MBTA gave its contractor a green light to begin work on the line in the spring of 2002, according to Pesaturo. At that time, the design-build contract — which did not include property acquisition, mitigation agreements, legal fees or administrative costs — was valued at $251.9 million.

By comparison, the design-build contract covering just the first 6.5-mile phase of the Honolulu rail system is valued at $502 million. Kiewit, the main contractor, was told last month to mobilize to begin building columns and the fixed guideway.

The $500 million total cost of the Greenbush line is just a tenth of the estimated total cost of Honolulu’s system, as is the rough number of passengers it’s expected eventually to carry, between 8,000 and 9,000, compared with the 100,000-plus Honolulu officials hope will ride rail here in 2030. The Greenbush line has seven new stations; Honolulu is slated to get 21.

When construction began in Boston, the planned date of “substantial completion” was 2006, according to Pesaturo. The line didn’t open to commuters until October 2007.

Legal battles and politics — residents near the proposed tracks complained about aesthetics and noise — delayed work and drove up the cost. Some towns along the line demanded payouts to make up for the line’s impact on their communities. Safety was also a concern for the at-grade system with more than 20 street crossings.

The final cost of the design-build contract turned out to be $334.4 million — nearly 33 percent above the budgeted cost.

“I’d prefer to let Dan speak to his own experiences, but the Greenbush project faced significant problems (including budget overruns) long before Dan took over,” HART Human Resources Chair Keslie Hui wrote in an email to Civil Beat Monday.

In early 2003, right-of-way issues and cost considerations stopped the line in its tracks. Grabauskas, then the director of the state’s Department of Transportation, said the delay might kill the project. Then-Gov. Mitt Romney was reportedly considering scrapping plans for the line even after the MBTA spent nearly $100 million to develop it.

The project fought off a legal challenge in late 2004 and picked up a key permit in early 2005, months before Grabauskas became general manager.

“The fact that he was able to work through those challenges and deliver a completed system is (a) testament to his ability to lead and execute,” Hui wrote. “One of the reasons that Dan is such a strong candidate is his willingness to take on really tough situations and work out better solutions. I think the Greenbush line development is one of those cases.”

One of Grabauskas’ other big challenges involved a company that’s already come under fire in Honolulu. AnsaldoBreda, an Italian rail car manufacturer, won the $1.4 billion contract to design, build, operate and maintain Honolulu’s system.

In Boston, Grabauskas resolved a decade-long fight with Ansaldo. Hui said that is another example of how adept Grabauskas is at taking over a tough situation and working to make it better.

The problems in Boston didn’t stop when Grabauskas joined the MBTA, where he came under fire for safety and financial issues.

And even the Greenbush line that HART cites as an example of Grabauskas’ skills hasn’t lived up to ridership expectations. In October 2010, three years after the line opened and a year after Grabauskas resigned from the MBTA, ridership was dropping, not growing.

HART spokesman Scott Ishikawa said Grabauskas would not be available to answer questions until after HART votes Thursday on his confirmation.

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