Relocating utilities along Dillingham Boulevard has been a complex problem from the start. The HART board is asking probing questions about the schedule.

A top manager for the Honolulu rail project says there are probably more delays ahead in a troublesome contract to relocate utilities along Dillingham Boulevard, a particularly painful piece of the rail project that is snarling urban traffic and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Federal reports describe the Dillingham contract as part of the “critical path” for completing the rail project by the latest target date of March 2031, meaning a major setback in Dillingham utility relocation efforts could ripple out to delay other construction work and trigger additional expenses.

Honolulu officials say the utility work is on schedule so far, and they are determined the entire rail line will be completed on time. But construction of the entire 18.9-mile rail line is running more than a decade behind its originally scheduled opening date of 2020, and further delays are an uncomfortable possibility.

The first 11 miles of the nearly $10 billion Skyline rail opened on June 30, but ridership on the half-built system has been limited.

There will likely be setbacks in the complex job of relocating utilities along Dillingham Boulevard ahead of construction of Honolulu’s elevated rail line through the city center. If that happens, the delay could affect the timing of the overall project. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The utility relocation contract involves moving infrastructure such as water, sewer, power and telecommunications lines and equipment out of the way of the construction crews that will actually build the elevated rail guideway through the city.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation awarded a $497 million contract to Nan Inc. last year to relocate utilities from Kamehameha Highway at Laumaka Street along Dillingham to Kaaahi Street. That work is about 15% complete, and the originally scheduled end date for the contract is December 2025.

This is the second utility relocation contract for Nan, and progress on the rail line has already been slowed because of problems with that utility work. Now a report produced by HART last month has generated new questions about the latest schedule.

A cashflow spreadsheet presented to the HART Finance Committee earlier this month projects HART will make $134.5 million in payments to the Honolulu-based contractor sometime in fiscal year 2027. But that fiscal year begins July 1, 2026, which is six months after Nan’s contract is scheduled to end.

HART Finance Committee Chairman Robert Yu questioned the timing of payments for utility relocation work. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

That triggered a series of probing questions on Nov. 2 from HART Finance Committee Chairman Robert Yu, who wanted to know why HART plans to make hefty payments many months after the utility work is supposed to be finished.

HART Project Director Nate Meddings assured the committee that the total $497 million cost for the Dillingham contract is expected to hold, but acknowledged the schedule may slip.

“What this is representing is that there is a likelihood that (City Center Utility Relocation) Dillingham will complete after the schedule,” Meddings told the committee. Some payments to Nan would then be delayed until after the work is actually completed.

Meddings explained that HART is already planning for a completion date of February 2026 for the Dillingham work, which is two months later than called for in the original contract. “I do think there is a high likelihood that CCUR will finish behind schedule,” he said.

Meddings was not available for comment late last week, but HART’s published progress reports and other reports from a consultant hired by the Federal Transit Administration describe several potential problems that might slow the utility work.

HART ranks various risks associated with the project in its monthly reports, using an FTA formula that takes into account the probability something will go wrong, the costs that might be associated with a mishap and the possible delays that might result.

HART board meeting finance committee Nathaniel Meddings
HART Project Director Nate Meddings said there is a “high likelihood” the utility relocation work in the city center will finish behind schedule. That work has been delayed before and is critically important to the completion of the project. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

A “high” risk means there is greater than 50% chance a potential problem will happen, causing extra costs and delays, and threats associated with urban utility relocation work consistently register among the top-scoring risks for the entire rail project.

At the top of that risk list in September’s monthly report was the possibility that there may be “differing site conditions” for the utility work, meaning unexpected problems may be encountered on the ground that could require design or other changes.

According to HART and the reports, workers discovered soil contaminated by fuel in the city center along Kamehameha Highway in August, and removed and disposed of 600 cubic yards of the material. HART also reported the discovery of an “archaeological historic property” along Dillingham in September.

Other top-ranking risks associated with utility relocation were the possibility that electrical components may require extra time for delivery; and possible delays in hiring a new contractor to make final utility hookups to homes and businesses along the rail line.

Medium risks included the possibility that other players such as Hawaiian Electric Co. may not be able to complete their tasks in connection with the Dillingham utility relocation project. That could include designing the new infrastructure that Nan must install in time to meet HART’s schedule.

The report notes another medium risk related to “contractor performance,” explaining that Nan was supposed to provide nine crews to work two shifts per day, seven days per week. That didn’t happen in the first four months of the contract, according to the HART report.

Another medium risk cited in the report is that some redesign work may be necessary along Dillingham to relocate a traction power substation that will power the trains.

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