As the city’s Environmental Services director, Lori Kahikina helped oversee the multibillion-dollar overhaul of Honolulu’s aging sewer system. Kahikina also became entangled last year in the rail project’s ill-fated effort to relocate utilities along the crowded Dillingham Boulevard corridor.

Now, she’ll lead the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation right as the local rail agency tries to find an acceptable solution for that critical utility work to proceed.

HART announced Monday that its board hired Kahikina as the agency’s interim executive director, starting Jan. 1.

Lori Kahikina, Director Dept of Environmental Services City of Honolulu gives press conference about a COVID-19 positive workers that are in quarantine now.

Lori Kahikina, the city’s outgoing director of environmental services, will take over as HART’s interim director. The rail agency has struggled with utility relocation in the same parts of town where Kahikina has helped overhaul the city’s aging sewer system.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She’ll replace outgoing executive director, Andrew Robbins, after HART’s board opted not to renew his contract, which expires at the end of the year. Kahikina served on Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s cabinet during his entire eight-year term. She also previously served as director of the city’s Department of Design and Construction.

Kahikina is the first woman to lead HART, as well as the first Native Hawaiian to do so. She said she’ll receive a $275,000 salary as rail’s interim director.

As Environmental Services director she earned $165,560 in 2020, according to the Civil Beat Database of Public Employee Salaries. (Robbins, meanwhile, received a $317,000 salary plus a $55,000 annual housing allowance and a $7,200 transportation allowance as HART director.)

Recently, she was among a group of city department heads who rejected HART’s requests for “variances” along the Dillingham corridor. The rail agency sought approval for utility-relocation designs that would give workers less space within the roadway to make repairs on those lines.

In her recent testimony on the matter before the City Council, Kahikina said that HART needs to work on its relationships with other agencies and utility companies in order for those challenging relocations to succeed.

She echoed that in an interview Monday. 

“What I’m hoping to do, because I have a good relationship with the city agencies, I’m hoping to use that benefit with HART,” Kahikina said. “We need to rebuild trust in this project.”

She added that her work involving the roadways surrounding rail’s future corridor, including the relocation of wet and dry utilities, would likely be her greatest strength at HART. Her yearlong contract coincides with the time rail officials are expected to work on acceptable utility designs along Dillingham.

“I openly admit I don’t have transportation experience” and will have to rely on others for help there, Kahikina said Monday. “But as far as construction … our projects were on time and on-budget (at Environmental Services). I’m thinking that’s the type of expertise I can bring.”

“I would love to stay on permanently but I believe I would need to prove myself. I fully understand and agree with the one-year interim” period, she added.

“It has to go to Ala Moana,” Kahikina said of the end-point of the full 20-mile rail transit line. “We’re obligated to go all the way there.”

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