In the grand scheme that has become Honolulu’s $5.3 billion rail project, spending $223,000 on time-lapse video cameras may not seem like such a big deal.
But with the elevated rail line facing renewed scrutiny because of cost overruns, the contract with EarthCam Inc. of New Jersey is drawing fire from some longtime critics like Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.
"There's nothing the council as a whole can say about it, but I'm not sure what they're trying to accomplish," Kobayashi said of the contract issued in May. "They keep saying on time (and) on budget, so we'll be watching."
Under the terms of the agreement with EarthCam, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is installing cameras at the future sites of all 21 rail stations as well as the Maintenance and Storage Facility. The contract calls for the ability to automatically create “time-lapse construction videos that can be posted to a website or embedded in a web page.”
HART Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas says the archival video project goes far beyond cool video of the expansive rail line being built. Rather he says, it’s an essential part of such a massive undertaking.
"Those cameras are there to make sure that we catch any other issues that may come up with someone trying to steal from worksites, which is very common,” Grabauskas told KITV4. “The cameras are also there to help us to monitor the work that's being done by the contractor.”
In comparison to Honolulu’s rail project, Sound Transit in Seattle used just one time-lapse camera during construction of that project’s first 16 miles. Sound Transit spokeswoman Kimberly Reason said an in-house video crew was used to record video for the time-lapse since such efforts are “difficult logistically to pull off.”
Just last month, Honolulu’s rail project was saddled with worrisome headlines when the transit authority announced the lowest bid for construction of the first nine rail stations came in $100 million over budget. HART had estimated the contract at $184 million, but the lowest bid by Nan Inc. was pegged at $294.5 million.
Despite mounting pressure to deliver the most costly public works project in Hawaii’s history without raising additional taxes, Grabauskas defended the contract for time-lapse video cameras, calling it a critical part of keeping contractors honest.
"Overall, in a $5 billion project, it's not only a drop in the bucket, but it's actually an investment in making sure that we're going to be on budget," he said.