Here’s what can be said for sure: Local board members overseeing Honolulu’s more than $9 billion rail project approved nearly $40 million in additional change orders and amendments during a series of meetings Tuesday.

But the public missed almost the entirety of those meetings due to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s latest technical glitches.

HART’s Project Oversight, Finance and Executive Matters meetings were held remotely, using computer software, to practice social distancing. They were supposed to appear on the agency’s YouTube channel.

Only the first 15 minutes or so streamed successfully, however.

HART Rail guideway construction near the airport.
HART continues to conduct business during the coronavirus pandemic but has struggled to run meetings smoothly and transparently. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The remaining two hours were either too spotty or froze altogether. Thus, the public couldn’t observe as HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins and one of his key lieutenants, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Lohr, briefed board members for the first time on how COVID-19 has impacted Hawaii’s largest-ever public works project.

Robbins said he only heard of the glitches about 90 minutes into the session. It’s not clear whether the board knew of the problems during the meeting. Its chairman, Toby Martyn, didn’t immediately respond to a phone inquiry late Tuesday.

Nonetheless, it’s legal for Hawaii’s normally open meetings to take place out of public view in the age of coronavirus.

HART’s technical snafus come amid Gov. David Ige’s suspension of open government laws, including the state’s Sunshine Laws governing open meetings, plus its public record laws — part of his response to the COVID-19 crisis.

It’s one of the most extreme anti-transparency measures taken in the nation and little explanation has been given for the reasoning. However, an Ige spokeswoman said last month that the move gives them more flexibility to deploy state personnel as needed.

HART will look to make a recording publicly available, spokesman Bill Brennan said, although it’s not clear when. Robbins subsequently spent an hour on the phone briefing local media on what had taken place.

From what Robbins described in that call, there were no major changes between his Thursday briefing on COVID-19 impacts to the board and what he told the media earlier this month.

HART has struggled to have its meetings run smoothly during the pandemic.

Last week, board proceedings broadcast on Olelo abruptly stopped when HART’s Webex meeting software crashed. Rail officials said the crash was due to a server failure by Cisco, the company that provides Webex. The board wasn’t able to finish all of its business.

On Tuesday, Webex worked fine, so the meeting continued. This time, the problem was the interface with YouTube to display the meeting, Robbins said.

More Cash For West Side Stations, Legal Help

HART’s Project Oversight Committee gave its initial OK on a $20.8 million claim resolution with local construction firm Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co., which is building three of the rail line’s nine west-side stations.

The cost covers some 155 claims with the company and avoids going to court to settle those instead, HART officials said.

Originally, HART inked a $79 million contract in 2015 with Hawaiian Dredging to build those stations.

This most recent change order, on top of previous ones, will raise that price to $118 million.

It’s the latest major change order for station work on the west side, where claims have already driven up the price on those construction contracts considerably.

UH West Oahu HART Rail station entrance.
The entrance to the future UH West Oahu station, called Ho‘ae‘ae. Myriad design, construction and interface problems have driven up the price considerably on this and other west-side stations. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

On Thursday, HART Deputy Director for Design and Construction Frank Kosich cited issues with “legacy design,” systems interface, elevators, fare gates, station canopies and various delays as the main culprits.

He added that he expects the claim to be the last major change order for the Hawaiian Dredging station contract. It’s pending final approval by the full board.

HART’s Executive Matters committee also approved a $10 million amendment for added legal help in eminent domain cases.

The most notable case involves Howard Hughes Corp. — the parties are about $200 million apart on how much the city owes that prominent Kakaako landowner, according to HART officials.

The rail agency has been trying to approve that added $10 million for at least two months. It was scheduled to vote last week, but the software crash prevented that from happening.

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