The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation still doesn’t have a plan to relocate the utility lines beneath and around Dillingham Boulevard — even though the agency awarded the $400 million contract to cover that work over a year ago.

On Thursday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell blasted HART for that slow progress on the rail project’s narrowest and trickiest corridor.

He pressed rail officials during a HART board meeting on why it’s taking so long when major construction is slated to start there sometime next year, and stalling on a plan will only make things worse for the surrounding Kalihi neighborhood.

“That’s why I’m here today. That’s why I’m asking you as board members to make sure that you’re on HART’s ass, to make sure that they’re doing what they need to do in a timely way,” Caldwell said.

“Now there’s gigantic impact on the Dillingham business community and residents there,” he added. “We’re very concerned about putting people out of business, affecting, disrupting lives tremendously and something needs to be done to make sure that does not occur.”

Dillingham Boulevard looking towards Costco near Honolulu Community College. Kapalama area.
The Dillingham Boulevard corridor remains among the most daunting challenges for rail construction.  Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell worries the surrounding businesses and residents will bear the cost of that. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

HART aims to have the utility lines out of the way so there are no surprises — or more painful cost increases to local taxpayers — when future crews start erecting the system’s columns and stations into town.

Rail’s last major construction contract to complete the line from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center is expected to be awarded early next year.

The mayor’s comments Thursday follow a briefing in his Honolulu Hale office last month that left Caldwell and City Councilman Joey Manahan, who represents Kalihi, unconvinced HART was ready to launch one of the project’s most difficult phases through such a tight and complex corridor.

Caldwell later sent a Sept. 9 letter to HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins that put his concerns in writing.

At Thursday’s meeting, Robbins acknowledged the progress on the utility relocation plan on Dillingham was “moving too slowly.” However, the agency thinks its current efforts will actually save time building rail in the long run.

“With the planning that we’re doing now, we feel that we can actually deliver the city center portion (Middle Street to Ala Moana Center) at least a year, if not a year and a half faster than we felt we could do before,” Robbins said Thursday.

Mayor Caldwell testifies during HART meeting held at Kapolei Hale.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, seen here testifying before HART in 2018, is concerned at the lack of progress in relocating utilities along Dillingham Boulevard. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

HART has devoted much of its planning efforts on the Dillingham corridor looking at how to avoid relocating a 42-inch water line that runs down the street, Robbins said.

Robbins also spent part of the past year weighing whether HART should slightly realign the route along Dillingham to avoid relocating so many of the utilities, according to Caldwell and other rail officials.

Ultimately, the rail agency decided against the realignment because it would cause even more uncertainty with the added environmental approvals and real estate acquisitions, they said.

But once they decided against that, “the utility issue became critical again,” Caldwell said.

HART does know for sure that it will relocate all the utilities along the first 2,000 feet along Dillingham, roughly from Middle Street to Mokauea Street, using a trench, officials said.

The entire Dillingham gauntlet, however, runs a total of about 8,000 feet — nearly a mile and a half long, according to HART board member Glenn Nohara. The agency is considering whether it makes sense to continue the trenching through the rest of the corridor or to combine it with tunnel work, Nohara said.

Meanwhile, Nan Inc. has been relocating utilities in other, less difficult parts of the rail route past Middle Street heading into town as part of that $400 million contract.

But the Dillingham work remains the most challenging feat.

Nohara, a retired construction industry executive, called it the most difficult and challenging construction work with which he’s been associated.

“Are we trenching or are we tunneling? And why are we talking about this today and not a year and a half ago?” Caldwell said in his testimony Thursday. “We’re now in a critical stage, if not a crisis stage, along Dillingham.”

Read Caldwell’s Sept. 9 letter here:

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