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HART board defers decision to give HECO $20M to purchase special trucks

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Construction on the HART mass transit rail system just west of Aloha Stadium.

The board in charge of the city’s $8 billion-plus rail project decided Wednesday night to hold off approving $20.3 million in change orders for Hawaiian Electric Co. to purchase 15 specialized vehicles to deal with ongoing utility-line clearance issues.

While the truck purchases are part of a plan approved in February 2017 to deal with multiple utility-line clearance problems resulting from the rail line’s elevated guideway, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation members said they want more proof that the agency is getting the best deal.

The HART board initially voted 7-1 to OK the change orders but eight votes are needed for decision-making because the board has 14 members. After HART member John Henry Felix, the lone “no” vote, said he considered the explanation for the arrangement “very murky,” the board held a closed-door session with its attorneys. When they emerged about 15 minutes later, they voted unanimously to “reconsider” its initial decision, and then took a third vote to defer a decision until next month.

“I think we should go back to the bargaining table and get a better deal,” Felix told his colleagues.

Kathy Yonamine, HECO Project Management Division director, said the specialized trucks, cranes and other equipment are urgently needed for its crews to be able to safely clear and work on overhead power lines running along the route’s first 11 miles from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium.

“Hawaiian Electric is already operating in a condition that’s not optimal for our crews to work efficiently or safely,” Yonamine said. “It’s not only just the safety of the crews but it’s also the safety of the guideway because we are so close. And that’s the concern. It’s for everyone’s safety all around.”

Even with the approval, it would take HECO about one year to receive the trucks.

Board member Wes Frysztacki said some HART members feel they are being asked to approve the purchase of trucks for HECO that the utility could also use for non-rail purposes, a benefit for which HART should receive some compensation.

The city gets reimbursed when it uses its vehicles to do work for the state, Frysztacki said. “It would seem to us that in the long term, you could and should use those vehicles for other purposes,” he said.”It’s just that since HART bought those vehicles, there should be some benefit back to the city.”

While HECO could end up using the trucks for work away from the guideway, Yonamine said, “if not for the guideway creating this clearance … we would not have to incur any kind of capital costs.”

HECO would also pay the cost to operate and maintain the trucks, which have an estimated life of 15 years, she said.

In order to avoid the need for HART to spend an estimated $200 million for relocating electrical lines underground, HART and HECO signed an agreement last year that would allow for most of the overhead power lines along the first 11 miles of the route stay in place, with the city instead spending $68.5 million for trucks and other equipment for the trucks and other equipment necessary to deal with the situation.

Prior to reaching the agreement last year, the two parties had wrangled over the issue for about four years.

Both Yonamine and Frank Kosich, HART’s director of design and construction, warned it would take another year to negotiate a new agreement.

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