Veteran city official Lori Kahikina will lead the city’s troubled $10-billion plus rail project as interim chief executive officer of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, effective Friday, the HART board of directors announced this morning.
Kahikina has been the director of the city Department of Environmental Services the past eight years under outgoing Mayor Kirk Caldwell, whose term ends Saturday. Prior to that, she was the city’s director of design and construction under former Mayor Peter Carlisle.
The contract of current HART Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Andrew Robbins was not renewed by the HART board and his last day is Thursday.
Kahikina acknowledged that she would like the job permanently, but that “I understand I need to prove myself and earn the trust of the public, the HART board, the FTA, the City Council, the other agencies, the different utilities and all the other stakeholders.”
Kahikina told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that her contract is for one year and that she will be paid $275,000.
Robbins has been paid $317,000 a year, and also has a $55,000 annual housing allowance and a $7,200 annual transportation allowance.
Kahikina will not get a housing allowance nor transportation allowance.
As environmental services director, Kahikina has been responsible for more than $5 billion in construction contracts dealing with sewage collection and treatment facilities as the city was forced to meet consent decrees tied to agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over discharge and other issues going back decades.
Also in her current job, Kahikina has been in the thick of a dispute between HART and the Caldwell administration over utilities relocation along Dillingham Boulevard. The administration has criticized the rail agency for failing to submit complete plans. HART officials say they its engineers are working to satisfy the administration’s requirements.
Both Caldwell and Robbins say underground utility relocation is a key component of the project moving forward.
After restoring trust with the public, Kahikina said, her second top priority will be tackling the perplexing issue of funding the rest of the project and dealing with the utilities relocation stalemate.
The $10 billion-plus project is over budget and its opening long delayed.
Kahikina said it’s clear to her that the FTA expects the project to go the entire 20-mile, 21-station route from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center as part of the Full Funding Grant Agreement which provided $1.55 billion federal share of the project. The rest of the project is being funded largely through state excise and hotel room taxes with a significantly smaller portion from city property taxes.
Kahikina has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Hawaii and is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools.
A HART news release said Kahikina “is the first female and the first Native Hawaiian to lead HART.”
Toby Martyn, HART board chairman, said in the release: “We look forward to Lori’s leadership at this crucial point of the rail project. She has a proven record of success in difficult engineering projects and is not afraid of a challenge.”
Kahikina said: “I am ready for the challenge of moving this important project forward.
“I commit to doing the best job possible for the citizens of the City and County of Honolulu and our entire state.”