Just days after the election of pro-rail mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell, there was more good news for supporters of the $5.3 billion project.
Transit authority Executive Director Dan Grabauskas said an archeological inventory survey should be finished by early next month, instead of the end of February. Grabauskas made the announcement during Thursday's meeting of the HART Finance Committee.
"A couple months ahead of schedule, which is fantastic," said Grabauskas. "At the current schedule, we expect to complete all of the trenching activity by early December."
HART expedited the digging of 398 archeological trenches after an Aug. 24 ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court. In the unanimous decision, justices said an AIS must be completed along the entire 20-mile route of the rail project before construction resumes. Royal Contracting Co. has 46 trenches left to dig, all of them in the city center of the project, where more native Hawaiian burials were expected to be found.
"Folks on the various crews, who have been literally working seven days a week, have been doing just a fantastic job," said Grabauskas.
Once the AIS is finished, Cultural Surveys Hawaii Inc. must draft an extensive report, which could contain more than 1,500 pages. The report is then forwarded to the State Historic Preservation Division for a 30-day review. If the report meets all of SHPDs requirements, it's then forwarded to the Oahu Island Burial Council, which must decide what to do with the native Hawaiian burials that have been identified.
To date, four trenches in Kakaako and Chinatown have unearthed skeletal remains. The latest discovery occurred last Thursday in Chinatown, when a foot bone was found inside an archeological trench at a parking lot near the intersection of Nimitz Highway and River Street.
OIBC chair Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu believes a majority of the burials identified so far will be kept in place.
"The Burial Council will be advocating for preservation in place, at least with…the intact burials that we found," said Wong-Kalu.
Grabauskas is hoping to restart construction of the first phase of the rail project in East Kapolei as soon as possible. He told members of the HART board the delays are costing taxpayers $7.1 million per month.
"It would be sometime in the second quarter of next year, and if it's 12 months, it'll be into the third quarter of next year," said Grabauskas, when asked when construction of rail might resume.