Construction delays could threaten rail project’s contingency funds
The discovery of a 3-inch human bone along the proposed route of Honolulu's elevated rail system is the latest twist that could further delay the controversial $5.3 billion project.
The bone was found Wednesday near the intersection of Halekauwila and Cooke streets in Kakaako by a crew sifting through a trench as part of an archeological inventory survey, or AIS.
Last month, construction of the project was halted after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the city must complete the AIS along the entire 20-mile route, rather than dividing the survey into four separate phases.
Once the AIS is finished, the city needs 30 days to prepare a report by the consulting firm Cultural Surveys Hawaii. That report, as well as any burial treatment plans for native Hawaiian burials, is then forwarded to the State Historic Preservation Division for review.
"Once those reports are in, SHPD has 30 to 45 days to review those," said Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairman William Aila, who also serves as a state historic preservation officer.
Dan Grabauskas, executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, told his board of directors Thursday he expects construction of the rail line to resume in April or May.
Previously, the city has said it would cost $7-$10 million for every month the rail project is delayed. But, if the delay extends beyond the seven to eight months predicted by Grabauskas, the project's contingency fund could draw down faster than anticipated.
According to the project's July monthly progress report, contingency funds currently total $643.6 million, of which $541.7 million is allocated, and $101.9 million is unallocated.
HART spokesman Scott Ishikawa told KITV4 "allocated" simply means the funds have been dedicated to contracts already issued, not that they will necessarily be spent.
"This does not mean the contingency money can't be tapped for other uses on the project," Ishikawa said in an email.
However, University of Hawaii civil engineer and rail opponent Panos Prevedouros believes there will be little if any money left from contingency funds that have already been allocated.
"Even if there are, the contingency funds used to be a full billion in 2006," said Prevedouros. "It has shrunk down to $600 million and down now to about $100 million. That is very alarming."
The transit authority has long maintained the $996 million in contingency funding identified by the project's environmental impact statement would be drawn down close to zero as construction continues through 2019.
"As allowed by the FTA, the contingency fund total has been gradually reduced over the last several years as the project progresses, and estimated costs become more concrete," said Ishikawa.
In April, 2011 the contingency stood at $865 million, or 21 percent of the total project cost. By September of that same year, it was down to $815 million. Currently, as noted in the latest monthly report, it stands at $643.6 million.
To date the city has issued $3.13 billion in rail-related contracts. The latest contract was issued July 30 to AECOM Technical Services, Inc. to design the "city center" elevated guideway from Middle Street to the Ala Moana Shopping Center, where a majority of native Hawaiian burials are expected to be found.
HART has yet to issue a press release about the latest contract award, and when contacted by KITV4, AECOM vice president of external communications Paul Dickard said work on a press release had not yet begun.
"At this point, we have not been (working on it)," said Dickard.
Grabauskas left Honolulu Friday in route to Washington, D.C. where he will meet with officials from the Federal Transit Administration to discuss the rail project. Ishikawa said the meeting was planned before the Hawaii Supreme Court issued its ruling Aug. 24.
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