Skyrocketing rail costs could mean big changes to Honolulu route
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The board in charge of overseeing rail say rising costs might not just shorten the rail route, it might significantly change it.
Officials say running the route on Dillingham Boulevard, as planned, could be too expensive. So they're eyeing other options, including running rail along Nimitz Highway.
"I was surprised at the complexity and really the mess underneath Dillingham and the fact that we'd have to move almost every one of the different types of utilities," said Colleen Hanabusa, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board chairwoman.
The cost to build the rapid transit project has already ballooned well over initial projections.
The most recent estimate from federal officials is around $8.1 billion, and HART admits even that's expected to be too low.
"Given the fact that we do not have the funds, we're going to have to hear what the staff has to say as to what is the alternative," Hanabusa said.
One of the biggest factors driving up the price is the cost associated with relocating utilities through the Dillingham corridor. That work alone is estimated to cost $200 million to $300 million.
HART has already spent $100 million in design and property acquisition for the Dillingham route.
"It's not just HECO. It's also Board of Water Supply, Hawaii Gas, and there's fiber-optic traffic lines under there. There's all kinds of stuff," said Mike Formby, city Department of Transportation Services director and chairman of the HART board's Project Oversight committee.
HART officials say there is an estimated 130,000 feet of electrical and communication lines under Dillingham. There's also a 42-inch water main that took 10 years to install.
"Any time that you open up the ground and you start digging up, you just don't know what you're going to find," said Brennon Morioka, HART's deputy director.
In an attempt to verify where utilities are, HART crews dug 22 holes matching up with blueprint plans. In just three instances, the blueprints matched up with what crews found.
"That's probably our biggest risk -- is digging someplace and things aren't exactly where they are," Morioka said.
Board members now want HART to look into the possibility of running the rail along Nimitz Highway, rather than Dillingham Boulevard.
Rail officials are expected to present a plan on the potential for the alternate route by June 8.
"Whatever happens I believe it will trigger an environmental impact statement and then we would have a better sense. I'm sure at that point people will challenge whether it's an inundation zone or tsunami area. There's going to be a whole battery of different challenges for any of the routes," Hanabusa said.
Rail critic Ben Cayetano says another environmental impacts statement could delay the project 10 more years.
"These guys rushed this thing so much, that they glossed over these things. I think they need to pause and take another look and consider some alternative because the information is flawed, as far as I am concerned," the former governor said.
Meanwhile, Nimitz might have its own problems.
There is a major energy corridor on the highway with fuel lines that service the harbors.
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