In the run-up to Honolulu rail, city officials estimated the project would create about 4,000 direct jobs a year during construction.

But now that construction’s in full swing, the local agency overseeing rail says it’s not required to track the total jobs — so it doesn’t. The limited data that it does collect, however, suggests 1,200 to 1,700 people are directly employed on any given day.

Officials both inside and outside the project point to the delays that stretched rail’s original construction schedule from 10 years to more than 12 as a key reason for the lower job figures. With a less-compressed schedule, the jobs spread out across a longer timeline.

HART Rail round steel rebar along Kamehameha Highway.
Laborers with the contractor Shimmick/Traylor/Granite work steel rebar for a rail shaft along Kamehameha Highway. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“It’s not the kind of project that lends itself to a huge amount of workers working at the same time,” said Panos Prevedouros, a longtime rail critic and one-time mayoral candidate who chairs the University of Hawaii’s Civil Engineering Department. “The way they did it, it’s much simpler to manage. It takes a longer time, but it keeps the (job) count quite low.”

Hawaii Construction Alliance Executive Director Tyler Dos Santos-Tam said his organization, which represents 15,000 local building-sector workers from several unions, is “pretty happy with how things are going … in terms of our members being on the job,” even though there’s been less available work thus far than what was projected.

In the fall of 2008, rail’s draft environmental impact statement estimated the project would generate about 4,000 construction and engineering jobs a year across a nine-year timeline. Lumping in “indirect” positions, such as restaurant jobs supporting those construction workers, and a third level of “induced” jobs created by rail’s economic expansion, officials estimated the project would create about 10,000 jobs annually:

Rail’s 2008 draft environmental impact statement estimated about 4,000 direct jobs a year on the project, as well as about 6,000 jobs not directly related to the project Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation

Two years later, as Hawaii (and the rest of the nation) worked to climb out of the Great Recession, rail’s final EIS estimated the project would generate an average of 8,100 total jobs a year over 10 years.

In construction’s peak year, the report estimated the project would create more than 17,000.

The final EIS didn’t break down the jobs by category. However, applying the same category ratios as in the draft EIS, the project would create nearly 3,800 direct construction and engineering jobs a year.

“When it comes to jobs, this really is the project that will stimulate our economy big-time,” Mufi Hannemann, then mayor of Honolulu, told an audience gathered at the state Capitol in 2010.

No More Job Counts

Since then, rail’s costs and schedule have gone awry.

Officials now estimate it will cost $9 billion instead of $5.26 billion to complete the state’s largest-ever public works project. Premature starts without the proper approvals, state and federal court challenges, utility-relocation problems and other construction issues helped push the completion back years.

The bulk of the construction work, which began in fall 2013, is expected to continue through December 2025, based on the latest official estimates.

Editorial board meeting Panos Prevodouros and left, Randy Roth and Cliff Slater.
Panos Prevedouros thinks the city should be keeping better track of how many jobs the rail project is creating. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which oversees the project, has taken at least 10 “snapshots” since construction began to gauge how many direct construction and engineering workers are on the project in a given day.

To produce those job snapshots, the agency has relied on rail contractors willing to participate and share their data. A HART spokesman recently said the snapshots have proven unreliable and unverifiable, however, and that the agency doesn’t intend to collect any more.

The counts found 1,240 workers on the job in December 2016 and 1,639 workers in March 2016. The most recent available jobs snapshot, taken in September, listed nearly 1,266 direct construction and engineering workers — but that tally didn’t include numbers from Shimmick/Traylor/Granite, the joint venture that’s building the latest 5.2-mile, four-station stretch from Aloha Stadium to Middle Street.

There’s no contract language that requires companies working on the 20-mile, 21-station transit line to report their total job numbers, according to HART spokesman Bill Brennan.

They do have to provide weekly payroll information to HART that shows they’re complying with fair-wage laws, Brennan said.  The data shows about 4,400 workers covered by labor laws — typically blue-collar union workers — have worked on the project since construction began, Brennan said.

At least 86 percent of those workers were local residents, Brennan said. That number doesn’t include rail’s nonunion employees, typically designers and engineers, he said.

Prevedouros said the city should keep better track of the actual jobs that rail is generating since that was such a strong part of the pitch years earlier to build the project.

“What was presented and promised, it was all rhetoric around the Great Recession we had. So it was a big selling point,” he said.  “Really, 1,000 jobs doesn’t make or break anything.”

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