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Prematurely awarded contracts increased rail cost by $354 million, auditor says

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    A vacant parcel on the Diamond Head side of Kualakai Parkway and makai of the onramp to H-1 freeway heading east.

A series of “prematurely” awarded rail contracts doled out to construction companies as early as 2009 prompted delay claims and change orders that increased the cost of the Honolulu rail project by more than $354 million, according to a new report by the Hawaii State Auditor released today.

The report also noted some delay claims and change orders are unresolved, which means the cost of those claims will continue to rise. For example, rail officials are now trying to settle a claim by rail contractor Ansaldo Honolulu JV, which sources say originally demanded $200 million in 2016 connection with rail construction delays.

The auditor’s report also cited documentation that the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation staff throughout 2015 reported one set of rail cost and schedule estimates to the HART board of directors, political leaders and the public, and reported different cost and schedule estimates to the federal government.

RAIL CONTRACT COST OVERRUNS

West Oahu Farrington Highway Segment (Kiewit Pacific Co.)

Original contract, November 2009: $482.4 million
Total change orders: $185.4 million
Amount attributed to delay claims: $108.32 million
Final contract: $667.8 million

Maintenance and Storage Facility (Kiewit/Kobayashi JV)

Original contract in June 2010: $195.3 million
Total change orders: $86.4 million
Amount attributed to delay claims: Nearly $50 million.
Final contract: $281.7 million

Kamehameha Highway Segment (Kiewit Pacific Co.)

Original contract in June 2011: $372.15 million
Total change orders: $32.57 million
Amount attributed to delay claims: At least $1.8 million
Final contract: $404.72 million
Source: Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation and Hawaii State Auditor

“The cost overruns and delays that have sent the city’s share of the final price tag soaring have also eroded public confidence in a project that relies largely on local funding,” the report states.

“Over-promise, under-deliver. It has been the hallmark of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project’s near decade-long stop-and-go journey,” the report concluded. “We also found that from the beginning these unrealistic projections resulted from a desire to demonstrate that the project was progressing satisfactorily and to minimize public criticism, which could have eroded public support.”

The official rail construction budget for the 20-mile rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana is now nearly $8.3 billion, but the total cost is expected to climb to more than $9.2 billion when financing costs are figured in.

The half-built rail line is the largest public works project in state history, and its cost has wildly exceeded its original budget. In 2012, the city pledged to complete construction of rail for $5.12 billion

HART is soliciting proposals for a new P3 contract to build the final 4.16 miles of rail line from Middle Street to Ala Moana along with eight rail stations and a Pearl Highlands parking garage and transit center.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a written statement today he welcomes the auditor’s report.

“The findings contained in the audit report is a further call to action by the HART Board of Directors to maintain strong management oversight of the transit authority and to ensure that HART incorporates into their everyday practices the suggested recommendations contained in the state auditor’s report,” Caldwell said in his statement..

The 39-page audit is the first of four reports that were ordered up by state lawmakers when they approved a $2.4 billion financial bailout of rail in a special session of the Legislature in 2017. That marked the second time lawmakers had to step in to shore up rail’s finances, and they instructed the auditor to scrutinize the financial management of rail.

The report traces the enormous rail cost overruns back to former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s administration in 2009, when the city claimed the rail project was “shovel-ready” and awarded a $483 million contract to Kiewit Pacific Co. to design the first rail segment starting in East Kapolei.

But the environmental impact statement for rail was not even completed until mid-2010, and the Federal Transit Administration did not issue a “record of decision” that was necessary to begin construction until January 2011, according to the auditor.

The city went on to award nearly $2 billion in rail design, construction and operations contracts in 2010 and 2011 before it obtained the federal clearances it needed to proceed with construction, according to the report, and at least some of those contracts are expected to result in delay claims.

The groundbreaking for preliminary work to relocate utilities in the path of the first segment of rail line did not begin until February 2011, and the Federal Transit Administration did not authorize the city to begin construction of the elevated rail guideway itself until February 2012.

“Cost increases following those delayed federal approvals, higher-than-anticipated inflation as well as a court-ordered injunction on construction resulting from a decision to short cut archaeological reviews, would result in the project’s first budget shortfall of $910 million,” according to the audit report.

In a response to the audit, HART said the city did not “short cut” the archaeological survey, but rather followed the instructions of the State Historic Preservation Division in carrying out the survey. The approach the city used with the support of SHPD was later rejected by the state Supreme Court.

The new report also cited records showing that HART staff repeatedly provided different data in 2015 about the projected cost and schedule for rail to different audiences.

For example, the report found a former HART deputy director told staff in an internal briefing on April 15, 2015, that the project might cost as much as $6.72 billion if it was to be completed by January 2020. However, HART staff told the board of directors two months later the projected cost of the project was only $5.12 billion, and it would open in late 2019.

“We found that throughout 2015, when HART was grappling with major unanticipated cost increases, HART’s monthly progress reports to the board failed to include updated estimated cost at completion and updated opening date information that was reported in FTA oversight contractor meetings and documented in FTA monthly reports,” the report states.

The auditor’s staff was unable to determine what the HART board might have been told privately about the 2015 cost increases because the board refused to provide the auditor with its 2015 executive session minutes, according to the report.

“Since 2009, when the first rail contract was awarded under an artificial timetable and financial plan, city officials have neglected their responsibility to spend money prudently,” the auditor concluded.

Former HART CEO Dan Grabauskas resigned in 2016 and has been replaced by CEO Andrew Robbins.

In a response to the audit, the rail authority said that since January 2017 “we have applied and practiced prudent accounting through a system that tracks all financial costs. Using this information, the HART board is provided and updated with financial reports on a monthly basis.”

HART also disputed claims that the auditor struggled to get certain information from HART, pointing out that it provided the audit team with access to more than 36,400 pages of electronic documents, and rail authority staff participated in more than 35 interviews with audit staff.

HART declined to release most of the executive session minutes sought by the auditor because of “certain contractual and legal obligations of confidentiality and privacy,” according to the rail authority.

Audit of the Honolulu Autho… by on Scribd

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated the auditor found that HART does not have enough money to award the last two contracts to complete the rail project. The auditor has retracted that statement, which was included in the report released today.
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