HART: Despite concerns, rail project moving forward as planned - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

HART: Despite concerns, rail project moving forward as planned

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KALIHI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A day after HART's board chairman stepped down amid growing concerns about Oahu's rail project, officials sought to reassure residents that the $6.5 billion project is on track and will continue as planned.

Brennon Morioka, deputy executive director for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said Tuesday that the first 10 miles of rail construction on the west side is nearly complete and the project will soon be approaching town.

At a presentation at Honolulu Community College, Morioka also said the Kalihi campus on Dillingham Boulevard is one of the next major sites to be developed.

"Whatever we do on Dillingham (Boulevard) -- even though it's a city road -- it impacts them on their state roads. It impacts them on H-1. It impacts them on Nimitz Highway," Morioka said.

Attendees at the presentation voiced concerns about traffic and the length of construction.

"We have tons of traffic. Foot traffic, car traffic," said one audience member.

Another said, "If you commence construction on Dillingham Boulevard what detours are we going to be expecting?"

HART officials say local businesses and residents can expect about five years of construction in the area -- but the level of intensity will differ over time. Heavy construction along Dillingham isn't scheduled until 2019 or 2020, but HART officials say the first phase will roll out later this year as crews begin utility relocation.

"That is the part of the work that's going to be the most complex, and probably the most disruptive," Morioka said.

The details came a day after HART board Chairman Don Horner stepped down in the wake of growing concerns about the rail project's escalating costs. The draft version of a city audit, which has not yet been released, also highlighted other concerns, including the lack of a long-term maintenance plan for the rail system.

Morioka didn't acknowledge Horner's resignation at the presentation, but he did seek to reassure attendees about the project's future, saying that the project would move forward as planned.

In discussing the construction around HCC, Morioka said, that utility relocation is especially difficult because crews aren't sure what they'll find until they dig up roads.

"All those lines, all the overheads -- both the communication lines, Oceanic, Hawaiian TelCom, the HECO power lines -- those will all be put underground at Dillingham," said Morioka. "It does add cost, but we've already included it into our budget about a year ago when we made those announcements and the decision to underground it."

He added that one idea HART officials are considering to maximize efforts and minimize traffic impact is shutting down Dillingham overnight rather than just contraflowing during the day.

Dillingham also poses another challenge: Rail guideways were built right into the medians of Kamehameha and Farrington Highways, but Dillingham doesn't have a median.

"We basically need to create a median so our columns can go down the middle and in order to do that we have to widen Dillingham on the makai side, so we are taking slivers of all these people's properties," he said.

HART officials say those acquisitions are nearly complete and will allow them to maintain Dillingham as two lanes in the town-bound direction and two lanes in the Ewa-bound direction.

"Everyone is trying to do their best in controlling costs I know that's top of people's mind -- so we're doing what we can to make sure that number one we're providing the public with the best rail transit system that we can within a reasonable cost," Morioka said. 

Anyone who has been to HCC knows parking is limited, which is why HART officials say they'll be working with contractors to restrict where equipment can be stored and where crews can set up in order to limit the impact on students or staff. HART has also promised to maintain access to all area businesses. 

"We're not going to lie to the people in this area that we're not going to impact them, because we are -- but how can we control it and mitigate it and work with all of them to see what kind of middle ground can we find?" Morioka said.

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