Robbins will take over as the city and state struggle to fund the 20-mile project, which has an estimated $3 billion shortfall.
The board voted 6-1 to choose Robbins, a senior director at Bombardier Transportation. The Canadian train manufacturer unsuccessfully bid to design and build Honolulu’s rail cars. The $1 billion-plus contract was instead awarded to Ansaldo.
The rail guideway in Waipahu. The $10 billion project has a new top manager in Andrew Robbins.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
At the time, Bombardier appealed the decision and Robbins told Civil Beat that Bombardier was “wronged and the taxpayers were deprived of the best value.”
Robbins has worked at the company since 1980 and is currently senior director of automated transportation system projects in the Americas, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Robbins, who lives in San Francisco currently, is no stranger to Hawaii politics. In a phone interview Monday, Robbins said that in the early 1990s Bombardier had a $1.1 billion contract to plan and engineer a rail line in Honolulu and he was the project manager.
He was in the islands for two and a half years until the City Council decided against raising taxes to fund the project.
Since then, he’s worked all over the world in cities like Shanghai and Singapore, specializing in driverless rail projects.
Robbins said he’s hoping to improve the project’s risk management, procurement and contract administration.
“It’s been a passion of mine to see this project developed,” he said. “I want to be part of the solution.”
Robbins’ three-year contract as HART’s executive director will start Sept. 5. His base salary will be $317,000 per year. He will also receive a $55,000 annual housing allowance and a $7,200 annual transportation allowance. He is also eligible for a 15 percent performance bonus.
Terrence Lee, a board member who served on a special committee to vet applicants, said Robbins beat out 11 other finalists.
“He possessed the leadership qualities that I felt were important to have to lead this agency, as well as technical background and knowledge,” Lee said. He added that of the finalists, Robbins had the strongest ties to Hawaii, noting that his wife is from the islands.
Robbins said he has a stepdaughter who lives near Waianae and his sister-in-law and her family live in Ewa Beach.
“I completely understand the frustration of people on that side and what they have to deal with and how they have to manage their lives around the traffic,” he said.
Robbins said he also plans to get a briefing from the city Ethics Commission to understand how to address potential conflicts with his former employer. For example, he said, can he leave his 401K retirement plan there or should he roll it over in case Bombardier bids on future HART contracts?
“I obviously intend to be in full compliance,” he said.
Robbins said he understands how Hawaii residents are frustrated with the high cost overruns.
“I know I’m walking into a difficult situation and so I’m willingly and knowingly do that and all I can tell you is I’m going to do the best possible job I can,” he said.
Robbins will replace interim director Krishniah Murthy, who took over after former HART director Dan Grabauskas agreed to part ways with the authority a year ago.
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