Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that an evaluation of HART Director Lori Kahikina was done by the HART board. In fact, the list of Kahikina’s accomplishments was put together by the director to present to the board.

Lori Kahikina summarized what she sees as the high points of her tenure as the head of Honolulu’s struggling rail project, and the board that oversees her performance will take up that assessment later this week. 

A new presentation prepared by Kahikina and posted to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation website lists a litany of accomplishments – and no weaknesses – for her first year at the helm, in which she worked as the agency’s interim executive director.

“Beginning on Day 1 … (Kahikina) established (a) management style of being firm, fair, collaborative and decisive,” her slide presentation states. It further touts her decision to trim HART’s total staff nearly in half, as well as her planning and communication skills.

The board’s Human Resources committee is set to hear and weigh in on Kahikina’s presentation Friday, after having promoted her to permanent director. It remains to be seen whether Kahikina can ultimately avoid the same fate as her predecessors, Dan Grabauskas and Andy Robbins. Both of rail’s previous permanent directors were dismissed from HART as the project soared over-budget. Both initially received good marks.

HART Interim Director Lori Kahikina listens as Mayor Blangiardi conducts his post State of Honolulu speech Q&A with the media.
Kahikina characterized her style as “firm, fair, collaborative and decisive.” Kahikina reduced the agency’s staff by nearly half in 2021. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Kahikina is poised to lead the rail project for at least the next two years as its permanent executive director. Her evaluation comes after HART spent much of the past year rebooting its strategy to get the rail line to Ala Moana. An effort under Robbins to finish the transit system via a public-private partnership imploded in late 2020 as HART and city leaders clashed over the best way forward. 

The agency has yet to award the last major construction work to build the elevated rail line into town, plus a transit hub farther west at Pearl Highlands.

The Human Resources committee’s virtual meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday. Both Kahikina and the committee’s chairwoman, Lynn McCrory, declined to comment on Monday.

“Comments will be made at the Board meeting. Please tune in and follow,” Kevin Whitton, a HART spokesman with Pang Communications, wrote in an email. 

The presentation lauds HART’s work under Kahikina’s leadership to develop a sobering new total cost for rail in March, estimated at $12.4 billion. It also praises the agency’s subsequent reduction of that estimate later in the year by as much as $915 million.

It further touts Kahikina’s work with city leaders to help develop the new 3% transient accommodations tax, which the City Council passed in December and which will help fund future rail construction.

The presentation extols Kahikina’s numerous public-speaking events and media interviews. It has been difficult at times, however, for the press to get clear and timely answers from HART under her lead. 

The semi-autonomous city agency recently hired Pang Communications on a 19-month, $207,500 contract to assist with its marketing, media relations and community outreach.

The presentation also hailed her “firm directive” to pursue utility designs that completely adhere to the basic standards along Dillingham Boulevard, and her decision to cancel an ineffective $400 million utility relocation contract awarded to local construction firm Nan, Inc. 

Under Robbins, HART sought special design variances that would allow utility lines to fit closer together under the narrow, crowded street. But Kahikina, who previously worked as the city’s Environmental Services director, was among several city leaders who opposed those variances and intervened to block HART’s efforts. 

The new utility-relocation designs for the Dillingham corridor are still in the works, according to HART. 

The presentation further notes that Kahikina and HART are expected to deliver the project’s latest recovery plan by June 30, as well as a “firm financial plan” to finish the transit line. She earns a $275,000 base salary, which is about $40,000 less than Robbins earned.

The Friday meeting will be broadcast and streamed for the public on Olelo channel 53.

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