Honolulu City Council newcomer Heidi Tsuneyoshi is calling for a forensic audit of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s procurement processes as well as the city’s management of rail contracts.
In a council resolution filed Tuesday morning, Tsuneyoshi wrote that the audit should be conducted by an entity with no connection to HART or the city to determine if any of the rail agency’s employees, contractors or consultants misappropriated public money or acted illegally. Any evidence gathered during the audit could be used in court proceedings.
“This resolution is to ask for a clear investigation into what has happened and what the lack of internal controls has cost us,” she told the media outside Honolulu Hale on Tuesday morning.
The contracts in question were awarded from 2007 to 2011. Among the largest were $168 million and $300 million to PB Americas for engineering consultation, $486 million to Kiewit for constructing a rail facility along Farrington Highway and $1.2 billion to Ansaldo for rail’s core systems.
A HART spokesman did not return a call for comment on the proposal.
Andrew Pereira, a spokesman for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, said that the administration supports any measure that brings transparency to the rail project.
“If the City Council passes this resolution, the administration is ready and willing to cooperate fully,” he said in an emailed statement.
Tsuneyoshi said her resolution was prompted by information from other audits of the project.
She said the issue came up at a recent council meeting where members discussed how some contracts may have been prematurely awarded.
“That presents red flags for me because we have to look at proper planning especially for a project of this scope and size,” Tsuneyoshi said. “We need to make sure proper planning was in play from the very start of this project or else we’re going to continue to have issues with how this project unfolds.”
The estimated cost of the state’s largest-ever public works project has risen from just over $5 billion in late 2014 to more than $9 billion today. Plans call for it to include 21 stations over a 20-mile route from east of Kapolei to Ala Moana.
Another city audit of the rail project in 2016 found that HART executives may have known as early as 2012 that the project would be facing budget shortfalls. That audit also pinned rail’s problems on HART’s mismanagement.
“HART’s processes have impeded its ability to construct and complete the project economically, effectively and efficiently,” that audit said.
Then-HART Executive Director Dan Grabuskas panned the audit, saying it included factual errors and was motivated by political pressure.
Prior to the 2016 audit, the Honolulu City Council in 2015 had called for better oversight of the rail project. The state House made a similar request the same year.
Tsuneyoshi said she looks forward to discussing her resolution with other members of the City Council. She didn’t say if it has gained any support yet .
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell