In recent weeks, local rail officials have been criticized for moving too slowly to award the transit project’s last major construction contract.

A key takeaway from the rail work already done on Oahu’s west side, however, is that they moved too fast.

The city should have waited until it had all of its federal approvals in place before awarding the guideway work to Kiewit Infrastructure West, according to a new 30-point  “lessons learned” presentation from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

HART should have relocated utilities along Kamehameha Highway before Kiewit started planting rail columns there, so the contractor didn’t have to stop whenever it encountered an obstacle, Project Director Sam Carnaggio told the agency’s board Thursday.

HART rail Kamehameha Hwy Radford Pearl Harbor area.
Concrete rail columns proceed along Kamehameha Highway near the airport. HART officials say they’ve learned lessons from the west side construction that are helping the latest work go more smoothly. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It further should have had a traffic management plan in place to deal with all the construction through Waipahu and Pearl City, he added.

“The effort on the west side could’ve been much better than it was. We had a lot of challenges over there and unfortunately we impacted the neighborhoods because of our lack of traffic plans,” Carnaggio said. “We’re doing a much better job now as far as communication.”

Before breaking ground, the city and HART should have had better agreements set with the University of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Electric Co. for their properties and utility lines along the rail route, he added. But in the rush to proceed, they didn’t secure those, resulting in major problems to fix after construction already started.

The project’s west side work was also plagued by what rail officials describe as “interface” problems: The stations didn’t fit smoothly into the guideway, and the wires and cables for the communications and signaling systems didn’t flow smoothly within those concrete structures.

These issues led to delays and costly change orders. Part of the problem, rail officials said Thursday, was that they were built under separate construction and design contracts.

HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins said he doesn’t expect to see the same interface snafus in the current rail construction happening near the airport because a single contractor, Shimmick/Traylor/Granite, is designing and building the guideway and stations there together.

Meanwhile, HART is months behind its original schedule to award rail’s last major construction contract. That includes the most challenging 4-mile stretch and eight stations into town, plus a transit center at Pearl Highlands.

The delay in getting that “public-private partnership” done has the Federal Transit Administration and city leaders anxious. Robbins, however, said that HART is trying to hash out as many issues as it can on the front end and do its due diligence.

“We’re mentally building the job with the bidders, and in the process of that we’re going through all of the risks on the job, making sure they’re allocated,” he said.

“The key is to have the risk in the right bucket — the private sector or the public sector, because that’s how you reduce your cost and schedule. That’s the exercise that we’re going through now.”

When Carnaggio finished his presentation, board member Jade Butay wanted to know who within HART gets a copy of those lessons learned. Carnaggio told him it’s shared within the entire agency.

Butay, who leads the Hawaii Department of Transportation, also noted that most of the lessons learned had to do with contracts. What about actual construction, he wondered.

Robbins replied that “a lot of the decisions you make during procurement are critical.”

HART is holding to its latest schedule to award the final construction contract May 10, Robbins said prior to the meeting.

More Utility, Audit Work Coming

The rail agency hopes to accelerate utility relocation in town — which also remains months behind schedule — by hiring a second contractor to help out, Robbins said Thursday.

Local firm Nan Inc. already has a contract to do as much as $400 million in utility relocation work between Middle Street and Ala Moana Center.

Adding another contractor would likely raise the costs for that work, but Robbins said HART still plans to manage rail to its existing $8.14 billion construction budget and find the cost savings elsewhere.

Nan’s work has moved slowly because it only has limited access along the Dillingham Boulevard corridor and can only work at night.

HART and the city hope to have their traffic management plan for the Kalihi area done by the end of February, Robbins said. Then, Nan should be able to work in round-the-clock shifts toward the end of March, with one lane open on Dillingham in both directions, he added.

Robbins also informed board members that both the city and state auditors intend to do follow-up reports on rail this year.

Those agencies’ reports from last year chronicled the project’s faulty management by the city and HART going back more than a decade.

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