The city awarded more than $75 million in new rail-related design and professional services contracts in the weeks before the rail project was halted by a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling, state procurement records show.
The new contracts were awarded in June and July, the largest a $43.94 million agreement with the Los Angeles-based AECOM Technical Services Inc. to design the "City Center" section of the rail guideway.
That portion of guideway is particularly sensitive because it includes the downtown and Kakaako areas where experts believe rail construction is most likely to encounter Hawaiian burials, or iwi kupuna.
The Supreme Court on Friday found that state rules do not allow construction to begin on the rail project until the city has completed an archaeological survey of the entire 20-mile route.
The city has been surveying the rail route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center in sections, and still has not completed the portion in urban Honolulu where AECOM has been contracted to design the City Center guideway.
Mayoral candidate and former Gov. Ben Cayetano on Monday called on the city to halt all design and construction work in the wake of the ruling that the state improperly allowed the city to proceed.
The city announced Monday it is temporarily shutting down construction while it completes the required archaeological survey.
A spokesman for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation said Tuesday that design work on the project will continue, although that decision is subject to review by the HART board when the directors meet Thursday.
Cayetano argued in a letter to HART Executive Director Daniel Grabauskas and Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle that design work should halt along with construction because "in the event the archaeological study discovers massive iwi and burial sites in the path of the current rail route, significant changes may have to be made. …"
The city has pledged to design the rail line in a way that avoids burials and other historic resources to minimize the impact of the project.
By allowing design or construction work to continue before the archaeological survey is complete, "the city is running up millions of dollars in costs — costs that will ultimately have to be borne by the taxpayers of Honolulu," Cayetano said in the letter.
The city awarded AECOM the City Center design contract on July 30. Other rail-related contracts awarded in June and July include:
» $1.6 million to ICxTransportation Group Inc. to provide rail-related traffic engineering and other services to the state Department of Transportation.
» $12 million to SSFM International Inc. to provide architectural and engineering services to the state DOT including design and construction review, assistance with permit compliance and other services.
» Another $10 million contract to AECOM to provide architectural and engineering services to assist the state DOT with design and construction review, facilitation of permits and compliance issues.
» $7.789 million to the San Francisco-based URS Corp. to design rail stations serving East Kapolei, the new campus of University of Hawaii at West Oahu and Ho‘opili Station.
The Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. sued the state and the city over the rail project on behalf of Paulette Kaanohiokalani Kaleikini, alleging the city improperly began construction of the rail project before completing a required archaeological inventory in the path the rail line would follow.
The Supreme Court ruling Friday found the State Historic Preservation Division violated its own rules by allowing the project to proceed before the survey was complete.
The court concluded that SHPD rules do not allow the agency to agree to the rail project until the city finishes the survey to determine if there are Native Hawaiian burials or other archaeological resources in the path of the rail line.
The court ruling also found that a special management area permit issued for the rail project is invalid.
David Kimo Frankel, one of the lawyers who represented Kaleikini, said that from his client’s perspective, "the need is for the archaeological work to happen now so that the city can make an informed decision regarding whether the project should be built, where it should be built, and what technology should be used. All three of those questions are still open questions."
He added that "those decisions can only be made after there is a thorough investigation to determine how many burials there are, and where they are."
Mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell issued a written statement through his campaign Tuesday restating his strong support for the rail transit project. Caldwell is traveling with his family on the mainland and was unavailable for an interview.
"This issue remains in the courts and it is premature to comment on what will happen with rail. I remain a strong supporter of the rail project, as I believe it is our best option for traffic relief and modernizing Honolulu’s transit infrastructure."
"Whatever the Court decides, our traffic problems are not going to go away; I would really like to see a better option if there is one. In the meantime, there are many other city issues that a serious mayoral candidate should be addressing. I’m anxious to do so," Caldwell said.
Caldwell is facing Cayetano, the former governor, on the November ballot. Cayetano has vowed to kill the $5.26 billion project if elected.
Star-Advertiser writer B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.