The long-anticipated opening of rail’s first 10 miles might be delayed again – this time pushed to early next year – as structural engineers investigate “serious” cracks in the concrete pillars that support several future western stations, according to Honolulu’s mayor.

“Before, I felt very confident we could get it – we could get the service done by the fall,” Mayor Rick Blangiardi told the Civil Beat Editorial Board on Wednesday. “I want it to be operational in this calendar year, and I thought that was feasible.”

“But if because of the repairs needed … we’ve got to push it back, then we will,” Blangiardi said of rail’s planned passenger service. In that scenario the opening would occur no later than the first quarter of 2023, he added.

Rail hammerhead pier Waipahu
Rail officials have said cracks forming in such station-supporting piers in West Oahu could be the project’s next big problem. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Blangiardi stressed that no official decision has been made yet on whether to push the opening to next year.

Bridge inspectors hired by the city noticed earlier this year that previously observed cracks in the hammerhead piers that hold up five of the west Oahu stations had grown and could be a safety hazard, according to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Director Lori Kahikina.

Those inspectors, with the engineering firm Consor, wrote in their report to the city that “the observed shear cracks are a critical item, as catastrophic shear failures can happen suddenly and without warning,” according to a HART slide presentation.

They recommended that HART and the city “close the structure to public access until the cause of the cracks is investigated and the issue resolved.”

This illustration, part of a Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation presentation, indicates that shear cracks are forming where hammerhead piers support the future rail stations.
This illustration, part of a Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation slide presentation, indicates that serious shear cracks are forming where piers support the future rail stations. Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation/2022

Consor and a separate engineering consultant for HART, Wiss Janney Elstner Associates, should deliver their findings on the cracking in six to eight weeks, Kahikina told members of the City Council last week. The city might have to construct additional hammerhead piers to help support the stations if the cracking’s deemed severe enough, Kahikina said.

The affected future stations are at University of Hawaii West Oahu, Ho’opili, Waipahu, West Loch and Pearl Ridge, according to HART.

HART and its contractors still haven’t determined who’s at fault for the growing cracks. The contractors for that work were Kiewit Infrastructure West and HNTB.

In January 2020, Kahikina’s predecessor, Andrew Robbins declared that “this is the year” passengers would finally get to ride the island’s elevated, driverless transit system.

It turns out, however, that rail officials were concerned at the time about the cracks developing in the rail line’s western piers — specifically the hammerhead piers supporting the Ho’opili station.

Days after Robbins’ pronouncement, HNTB, which was the engineer of record on that work, responded to HART concerns in a Jan. 20 letter that stated the hammerhead cracking across the western appeared to be “shrinkage cracks,” requiring no action other than inspections every two years to check whether they were growing.

HART officials are poised to brief the agency’s board on the matter on Thursday during its Project Oversight Committee meeting. The public can attend the meeting, at HART’s Alii Place offices or view it live on Olelo.

Read 2020’s HNTB letter to Kiewit on the cracks here:

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