A video system set up to let the public watch meetings of the Honolulu rail authority’s board of directors failed Tuesday for the second time this month, but rail board members proceeded with their meetings anyway and voted to approve nearly $40 million in new rail project change orders and contracts.
Board members were able to take action on the change orders because Gov. David Ige signed a supplementary proclamation March 16 that suspended Hawaii’s “Sunshine Law” mandating that boards and commissions conduct their business in public. Ige’s order was in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and it also suspended the state’s open- records law.
The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has been using an online video communications system this month to link board members together and allow the public to watch board committee meetings. When servers crashed on the mainland and the system failed during HART’s April 16 meeting, the board ended the meeting.
But on Tuesday the board continued with its scheduled votes and a briefing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Honolulu’s $9.2 billion rail project even after the video and audio feeds to YouTube for public viewing failed. That prevented any observers from the public from watching almost all of the meeting.
HART Executive Director Andrew Robbins said he was unaware the feed to YouTube was not functioning until about 30 minutes before the meeting ended. Robbins said he does not know whether the board members were aware that the public could not watch the meeting.
”We’re really trying to be public, obviously, and I can tell you that staff has worked really hard to try to make all this happen,” Robbins said Tuesday in a phone call with reporters after the meeting.
Robbins said he told board members Tuesday that Hitachi Honolulu JV is having ongoing problems bringing technical experts to Hawaii amid the pandemic to work on the Honolulu rail system, which could delay the “interim opening” of rail until early next year.
HART has been aiming for an interim opening of the portion of the rail line from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium late this year, and Robbins has said that portion of the line will be “ready to ride” sometime between late October and the end of December.
However, Robbins said earlier this month that efforts to get the system ready are now running about four weeks behind schedule, and he said Tuesday, “That could get longer.”
“That could threaten the interim service date,” he said. “We’re meeting with the city to figure out what the impact is and whether that still is able to happen by the end of the year or whether it’s going to go into the first quarter of next year.”
The largest of the change orders that won preliminary approval Tuesday deals with claims by Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co. in connection with construction of rail stations at West Loch, Waipahu Transit Center and Leeward Community College.
Hawaiian Dredging was awarded a contract for nearly $79 million in 2015 to build the stations, and since then HART has approved 36 change orders that increased the value of that contract to nearly $97.5 million.
The rail board’s Project Oversight Committee voted Tuesday in favor of another increase, worth an extra $20.8 million, to settle what HART staff said was more than $40 million in outstanding delay and other claims by Hawaiian Dredging.
Those include claims related to construction delays caused by problems fabricating and installing canopy arms at West Oahu stations. The arms support fabric canopies that are stretched over the rail station platforms to provide shelter to passengers, and some of the arms had cracks.
Robbins has said in the past the problems with the canopies were not HART’s fault and that either the designer or the builders of the canopy structures will be responsible for any costs associated with the problem.
However, Robbins said Tuesday that HART agreed to settle delay claims linked to the canopies by Hawaiian Dredging because they had merit. He said HART might try to recoup that money from other players.
“We still have other actions that are pending, for example with the designer of the canopy arms, and maybe other actions as well,” he said. The arms were designed by the engineering company AECOM.
The change order would increase the overall value of the Hawaiian Dredging contract to more than $118 million, but still needs the full rail board’s approval.
The Project Oversight Committee also agreed to increase the size of a contract for on-call contractor Royal Contracting Co. Ltd. by $7 million to handle unanticipated work along the rail line, including the demolition of a Ross Dress for Less store on Ward Avenue that will be torn down to make way for the project.
The board’s Executive Matters Committee also approved additional funding for outside law firms to assist HART in eminent- domain cases to acquire land for the 20-mile rail line.