After years of delays, work begins on traffic center - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

After years of delays, work begins on traffic center

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Federal, state and city officials gathered Wednesday to break ground for a new joint traffic management center at the corner of Alapai and King Streets, where the project that was originally supposed to be completed in 2012 is now not predicted to be finished until 2017.

While the city began planning for the project in 2005, it's been delayed for as many as five years through several mayoral and gubernatorial administrations.

The federal government is providing $30.2 million of the $53.6 million to build the three-story center that will house six agencies to respond to routine and major traffic problems.

"This facility puts us all in the same room, on the same floor, looking at the same information. We collaborate, we talk and we make decisions together," said City Transportation Director Mike Formby.

The building will be home to dispatch operations for police, fire, EMS and state and city transportation departments, as well as rail transit.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, "This groundbreaking that we're doing today is about addressing solutions to problems that have been growing worse and worse on a very small island."

The project has been in the planning stages for more than ten years, so Caldwell worked on it as a state lawmaker in the early 2000s and then when he became city managing director under then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann in 2009.

In various news articles over the years, city officials have told reporters that the traffic management center would be complete in 2012, then the completion date was pushed back to 2015, and then 2016. The city now estimates the project will be open in mid-2017.

The Caldwell administration originally said it would begin construction in the spring of 2014, so the project is a year late in getting started from that recent estimate.

Formby said a protest filed by one of the losing bidders for the construction work contributed to several months' worth of delay. He said the company that brought the protest did not appeal the city's decision ruling against its protest.

"Any time there is a protest which a bidder has the right to do under the law, we have to go back and look and make sure that we followed the law. And we did that," Formby said.

"We try to do things as quickly as possible but I think everybody knows that when it comes to government, it just takes a little longer than we all want it to, and that's the case here. But we're happy to see it's up and running now," Formby said.

Formby said finalizing architectural drawings pushed things back further.

"When you have different agencies involved in the facility, everybody wants to have a say in what their console looks like, where it's located on the operation floor and all of that takes time," Formby said.

The city has given contractor Watts Constructors two years to finish the project. But Formby hopes it will be done in about 20 months, in the spring of 2017.

The architect is Architects Hawaii and R.M. Towill Corporation is handling construction management.

During groundbreaking ceremonies Wednesday morning, one speaker after another spoke of the dire need of Oahu commuters to get relief on the roadways.

"Do you remember when rush hour was really only an hour? You have to think back quite a while, right? Today, in Honolulu, it's practically all day," said Mayela Sosa, Hawaii division administrator of the US Federal Highway Administration.

Honolulu City Council Chair Ernie Martin, who may run against Caldwell for mayor in 2016, told the crowd, "Mayor, I hope this is one we can be on-time and on-budget for." That's a reference to the city's rail transit project that is falling behind schedule and faces a $900 million shortfall.

The traffic management center site made news in July of 2013, when Hawaii News Now reported the $20-million, five-story parking structure was virtually empty after being open for eight months, when construction on the building it would serve had yet to get underway.

Formby said the property was purchased using Federal Transit Administration funds and so the feds required the city to build a transit facility there. As a result, the city built the Alapai Transit Center for city buses with the 400-stall parking garage on top of it first, and then planned for the traffic management center.

The city later appealed to the FTA for permission to allow city employees to park in the new parking structure until the traffic management center was built, and the FTA allowed the city to begin renting out the parking places to other city employees in late 2013.

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