More than $700 million in contracts were awarded to relocate utilities in the urban area, but that did not include transformers or electrical lines to homes and businesses.

The years of headaches caused by utility relocation work along the city rail line aren’t over yet. The Honolulu rail authority will soon be presented with one or more painfully large change orders or a new utility relocation contract for electrical work that likely will cost $75 million.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has already spent $84 million on utility relocation work along Dillingham Boulevard, and also awarded contracts worth another $714 million to move utilities along Dillingham and through downtown.

But those contracts are for “backbone” infrastructure, and do not include the transformers and electrical lines needed to actually hook up the businesses and homes along the rail route to the new electrical infrastructure being installed.

That additional work including transformers for the Dillingham area alone is expected to cost $50 million to $75 million, depending on the cost of materials, according to Project Director Nathaniel Meddings.

HART Rail construction near Dillingham Boulevard fronting the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
Rail construction equipment is poised for work near Dillingham Boulevard fronting the Oahu Community Correctional Center. Completing the utility relocation work along Dillingham may cost yet another $50 million to $75 million. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

Relocating electrical, water, sewer and other utilities out of the way of rail construction has been a colossal problem for the rail authority. HART staff estimated back in 2012 the utility relocation work for the dense urban corridor could be done for about $63 million, but that estimate wasn’t even close.

HART later awarded a contract in 2018 for up to $400 million to Nan Inc. to relocate an estimated 40 miles of utility lines running along the last four miles of the rail route. The idea was to get that work done ahead of the station and guideway construction to help keep construction costs in check.

But by the fall of 2020 it became clear the utility work would cost considerably more than $400 million, and HART canceled its original contract with Nan in 2021. HART records show more than $84 million in construction costs were incurred under that first contract with Nan.

The city then awarded an entirely new contract for $496.2 million to Nan last summer to relocate utilities along about 1.5-miles of the rail route, from the corner of Kamehameha Highway and Laumaka Street near the Oahu Community Correctional Center, to Dillingham and Kaaahi Street in Iwilei.

Yet another utility relocation contract was awarded in January to Frank V. Coluccio Construction Co. to cover utility relocation through downtown Honolulu and Kakaako, as far as Cooke Street.

But board members were told last month those contracts cover only backbone infrastructure such as excavating and installing conduit through those neighborhoods. They do not include the necessary materials, equipment and labor for actually hooking up Hawaiian Electric customers along the route.

Meddings told the HART board the cabling, transformers and other work to connect customers to the new infrastructure were not included in the Coluccio or the second Nan contract because HECO had not completed the designs for that work when the contracts went out to bid.

There is intense pressure to complete the Dillingham utility relocation work to prepare the way for construction of the rail line, and HART opted to move ahead with the bidding for the main infrastructure work on Dillingham even without the HECO designs.

“The reason we went out to procurement is because we didn’t want to wait six to eight months for the final HECO designs to come,” Meddings said. “We determined that to be maybe a nine-month impact to project schedule.”

Since then the HART staff has negotiated a change order with Coluccio for the additional work related to the transformers and hookups in the city center area, and Meddings said he may present the board with that change order later this month.

HART and its public relations firm Pang Communications declined to answer a series of questions about the change orders, including a specific request for the dollar value of the proposed Coluccio change order.

However, Meddings said the change order under the Coluccio contract will be “substantially” cheaper than having HART do an entirely new procurement for the electrical hookup work.

HART has already spent or awarded contracts totaling nearly $800 million to relocate Dillingham Boulevard and city center utilities that are in the path of the rail line. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021)

As for the Dillingham segment being handled by Nan, “there’s a chance that we will go out with a procurement to secure that work,” he told the HART board.

HECO was expected to complete the final designs last month, which would lock in details such as the cable capacities and types of transformers that are needed, he said.

Nan has a subcontractor that is qualified to do the customer hookup work, and Meddings said HART’s first choice would be to negotiate a change order with Nan, provided “we have a cost and schedule that we can accept from the contractor.”

“The last preferred priority is (to) go out with a procurement, just because of the six months it will take on time,” he said. He added that Nan is already dealing with a tight schedule for completing the Dillingham work, which is supposed to be done by the end of 2025.

HART estimated in its rail “Recovery Plan” last year that the total cost of the city center utility relocation work would be $808.7 million. However, Nan’s previous work on the project along with the various utility relocation contracts now in place total nearly $800 million.

That suggests a $75 million change order for Dillingham would cause HART’s spending on utility relocation work to exceed what HART projected when it submitted its recovery plan to the Federal Transit Administration last year.

Kevin Whitton of Pang Communications said in a written statement that “we continue to conduct design optimization on both Downtown and Dillingham utility contracts to realize cost savings in order to align more closely with the Recovery Plan numbers.”

“As these are ongoing contractual matters, we cannot provide further detail on the specifics of these items,” he wrote.

Meddings told members of the HART board that the cost of the change orders will not increase the overall cost of the 19-mile rail project from East Kapolei to South Street, which is now $9.93 billion including financing costs.

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