The Honolulu City Council expedited approval of two critical measures Wednesday that allows construction of the $5.3 billion rail project to resume Monday morning.
A special management area use permit (SMP) as well as an intergovernmental agreement between the city and the Hawaii Department of Transportation easily passed the council by a vote of 9 to 0.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation said after more than a year of sitting idle, the controversial project would resume construction Monday morning along a 10-mile stretch from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium. A spokesperson for Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., the rail project’s main contractor, told KITV4 more than 150 workers are expected back on the job.
“It’s going to be back to work in a couple of places simultaneously,” said HART Executive Director Dan Grabauskas. “First of all, people will see us work around the area where we were working on the columns last year. We’ll also be doing re-grading of maintenance and storage facility.”
Construction of the rail project was halted in August of last year after the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled the city must complete an archeological inventory survey along the entire 20-mile route, not in four separate phases.
With the AIS now finished and the necessary permits and agreements in place, HART hopes to build 442 rail columns along the initial 10 miles of the elevated rail line. Before construction was halted by the high court’s ruling last year, the transit authority erected 16 columns in an empty field in East Kapolei.
Grabauskas told council members early approval of the SMP and intergovernmental agreement would save taxpayers about $3 million.
“Every work day that passes, we're about $200,000 in terms of losses to this project sitting idle," said HART’s executive director.
But with another lawsuit by rail opponents making its way through the federal court system, not all council members are convinced the transit authority will actually realize savings by resuming construction.
"Without a real cost analysis, and for me, I think this is kind of like a roll of the dice,” said Councilman Joey Managan while questioning Grabauskas. “I mean it's kind of a crap shoot as far as saving money."
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule whether the city adequately studied alternatives to rail under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, after a hearing in San Francisco last month. Meanwhile, HART continues to comply with a federal judge’s order to further study the impacts the project will have on sensitive areas in the city center.
Grabauskas told council members he remains confident the city will prevail on all of the issues currently before the federal courts.
“At this point, having given due consideration to the work that has been given to us by the courts and the favorable review by the courts, we're feeling very confident that we're in a very good position to comply with the judge's orders and to be able to move forward,” he said.
Still, the project faces many uncertainties as construction resumes next week. According to HART’s August monthly report, there’s a 90 percent chance taxpayers may incur additional costs since final engineering for the city center has yet to be finalized.
"It's not predictive, it's just indicative of the possibility of something happening,” Grabauskas said of the monthly risk assessment, “and so we just need to really be on top of it."