HART, trying to manage public expectations, wanted to keep that target vague.

The top executive overseeing construction of Honolulu’s rail project was surprised to learn moments before last month’s annual State of the City address that Mayor Rick Blangiardi would declare the transit system’s first leg ready to ride in July.

“The split second before he came out, he said ‘July,’ and I gasped because we expected him to say ‘summer,’” Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Lori Kahikina said Monday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” program. 

“But that’s OK – he put that stake in the ground. He is a dynamic leader and coach,” Kahikina said.

Kahikina further revealed that Blangiardi had told her two days prior to his March 14 speech that he actually wanted to declare the rail system would be ready to ride in a month.

Lori Kahikina HART rail
HART Executive Director Lori Kahikina briefs “Spotlight Hawaii” on the status of Honolulu rail. (Screenshot/Spotlight Hawaii)

“And we’re saying, no please – HART’s reputation. We don’t want to overpromise (and) underdeliver, so just say ‘summer,’” Kahikina recounted on Spotlight. “Just be a little bit vague … because this is a major infrastructure project. Anything can go wrong.”

Blangiardi reluctantly agreed to go with summer, she said. Kahikina then learned of the change right before he went on stage.

“We are ready for riders to embrace rail,” Blangiardi told an audience of local elected leaders and VIPs gathered at the city’s Mission Memorial Auditorium. “Our long-awaited rail system is scheduled to commence interim operations in July.”

Immediately following the speech, Kahikina said, she sent an agency-wide email out to HART staff saying they would meet the mayor’s July target.

“We’re not going to make a liar out of him, so let’s get this done,” Kahikina said, recounting the email to staff. “We’re going to hit that July deadline for mayor and the community.”

Kahikina shared that glimpse into how the city arrived at its latest, July target after the Spotlight hosts asked if she was confident the rail’s first 10 miles, from east Kapolei to Aloha Stadium, would be ready to ride by then.

A Moving Target

For years, city elected leaders and transportation officials have been anxious to launch partial service of Oahu’s elevated rail line. 

The move, they hope, will help improve public perception and spur interest in Hawaii’s largest-ever infrastructure project, whose price tag has more than doubled and whose completion date has been pushed back about a decade.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi delivered his third State of the City address before a livestream by Hawaii News Now. (Screenshot/Hawaii News Now)

However, some critics – including some rail industry experts who’ve worked on the project – say the aggressive push to get rail’s first half open has led to some questionable construction decisions, including the methods that HART used to address problems with its track crossings and tolerances.

Nonetheless, Kahikina told “Spotlight Hawaii” on Monday that HART and Hitachi, the company that will operate rail for the city, have successfully completed the system’s critical trial-running phase. That phase included 144 test scenarios and a system demonstration that Hitachi finished weeks ahead of schedule, on April 2, according to Kahikina.

HART further expects to have all of the diagonal “shear” cracks causing concerns in the so-called “hammerhead piers” that line rail’s western half repaired by the end of May, Kahikina told Spotlight. 

HART officials have kept the public up to speed on those repairs, but they’ve offered few details into what might have caused the shear cracks in the first place.

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