Businesses, residents raise alarms over rail construction ‘disaster’ on Kalihi thoroughfare

Business, customers, schools and homes along Dillingham Boulevard are about to face 3 years or more of major disruption from rail construction.
Published: Oct. 27, 2022 at 4:52 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Dillingham Boulevard businesses, their customers, schools and homeowners are about to face three years or more of major disruption from rail construction.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation ― and the contractor it is paying $500 million to relocate utilities on the thoroughfare ― had their first meeting with stakeholders Thursday about the changes.

Some worry the work will be so disruptive it could put them out of business.

Denise Soderholm owns the state’s only certified dealership of vehicles for people with disabilities. Beginning Nov. 28, she may not be able to control when vehicles can come and go to her business because of the construction.


“That can’t happen,” Soderholm said. “If I can’t get in, how can I get a customer in? If I can’t get a customer onto our lot, how am I supposed to pay the electric bill? How am I supposed to pay my employees?”

Soderholm says she’s negotiated with HART and the city for 10 years, and even bought a property away from the rail line three years ago to relocate.

But she said the city took until this July to approve permits — too late for her to move.

She joined scores of people in the virtual meeting Thursday — most questioning how they will get around when Dillingham is down to two lanes and side streets are closed overnight.

Contractor Nan, Inc. is being paid $496 million to move utilities such as water, sewer, gas and electricity out of the way of the coming guideway construction.

Project manager Mitch Mizokami was asked repeatedly how long properties will have to deal with the disruption.

“It’s very difficult to give you an idea of how long we are going to be working in front of each driveway,” he replied. “The probability is that we will be working in front of every business for the duration of the project.”

Construction is slated to end in the first quarter of 2026. But utility relocation in the past, including with Nan as the contractor, has run into delays as the tangle of utilities under Dillingham is notoriously difficult to predict.

Of all the challenges of this project, ground zero will be the bridge over the Kapalama Canal.

Nan is planning to dig a microtunnel under the waterway for high-power electrical lines that now hang from huge concrete poles. The canal is bordered by several busy roadways with intersections on both ends of the short bridge.

Mizokami didn’t minimize the challenge.

“That intersection especially that by the bridge is like a disaster as far as traffic control is concerned.”

Soderholm was also unhappy that the virtual meeting didn’t allow her to make her case in person. “I think they don’t want to be face to face with the community. They are going to destroy the community,” she said.

HART Communication Director Joey Manahan said subsequent meetings will likely be held in person.

More detailed information about the Dillingham project and the contractor can be found on the HART website.