Frustration mounts over 'slow' progress of Honolulu airport renovations

Published: Mar. 15, 2017 at 9:39 AM HST|Updated: Mar. 15, 2017 at 3:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you've been to Honolulu International Airport recently, you'll have noticed: Construction is going on just about everywhere you look.

The $2.7 billion modernization project has been underway for years now, and while airport officials say they're around two-thirds of the way through time-wise, they're still only about halfway through construction-wise with the work that should be completed in another four to five years if they can stay on schedule.

The state first proposed the airport renovation project a decade ago, and after some early delays, the Department of Transportation says the project is now on time and on budget.

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Mark Dunkerley says the slow pace of the project is not normal and not good for business.

"Other communities have found ways to update its infrastructure in a fraction of the time," he told Pacific Business News.

"Hoover Dam took five years to build. The Coliseum in Rome took eight years to build, and The Parthenon took nine years to build. I'm just trying to draw out how much time has passed for the state's airport modernization program. It was a high priority to develop the infrastructure, which is so important to our state and the state's economy."

DOT officials responded to his criticism this week, saying they realize Dunkerley and others have been frustrated by the delays related to the project.

"We understand that perspective, and that's actually one of the reasons why we support legislation going through the state Capitol right now calling for an Airport Corporation -- essentially taking the State Airport System out of the hands of the state," said Tim Sakahara, DOT communications director. "Now what would that do? It would actually form an independent board and body in order to make those repairs and projects more efficient."

DOT officials say a lot has already been completed, including significant renovations to the overseas terminal -- which includes enclosing and air conditioning airport's busiest security checkpoint -- along with a $150 million retrofit in energy upgrades. Yet, there is still much to be done.

A maintenance project on the second floor overseas departure level, mostly being worked on during overnight hours, does require passengers to walk a little further than they used to while concrete barriers and railings are being replaced.

Officials hope to have that done by the end of summer or early fall of this year.

They're also reconstructing the metal roofs along the airport drop-offs to allow tour buses to pull up as close to the curb as possible. The DOT says that should also be completed by the end of the year.

Eventually, the terminals themselves will be re-named and gates re-numbered. Even signs leading to the airport will change.

"Virtually every single sign in the entire airport facility -- inside, outside, over the roadways -- is going to be replaced and brand new signage to help direct people find their way a little easier and more efficiently," said Tim Sakahara, DOT communications director.

But there are two very big projects that are still in their early stages: The construction of a new concourse on the mauka side of the interisland terminal, which will be the first major concourse expansion at Honolulu International Airport in almost 20 years. It will include new aircraft gates, passenger hold rooms, security screening lanes, jet bridges, restrooms and restaurants.

And crews are already building a five-level structure to consolidate all rental car companies under one roof. The 1.8 million-square-foot building will include 2,250 parking stalls for rental cars and another 1,550 for storage.

DOT officials say it should be done by the end of 2020.

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