As the sun rose over Ewa on Monday, a drill rig began boring and scooping dirt to form the foundation of the 17th concrete column to carry the track of the city's $5.26 billion rail system.
Dan Grabauskas, chief executive of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, grinned like a kid in a toy store as he watched the drill rig fire up.
"To me that's the most beautiful sound in the world, the sound of that equipment starting up," he said.
After a nearly 13-month delay caused by a lawsuit, construction restarted on the state's largest public works project following a blessing in the Ewa fields.
The columns are the most visible sign that the rail line is advancing. Sixteen of 422 columns planned for the East Kapolei-Aloha Stadium segment had been erected when work was halted. There will be about 50 between East Kapolei and Fort Weaver Road.
Farrington Highway through Ewa, from Kualakai Parkway (formerly North-South Road) to the Old Fort Weaver Road triangle, will be closed through March as a result of construction.
Work is also being conducted at a storage and maintenance facility near Leeward Community College, while utility relocation will resume weeknights along Farrington Highway through Waipahu.
As a result, sections of Farrington in Waipahu, an eastbound H-1/Moanalua freeway onramp in Aiea, and portions of Kamehameha Highway in the Halawa-Pearl Harbor area also will be affected in the coming week.
In 2012 the Hawaii Supreme Court demanded that the city conduct archaeological studies throughout the 20-mile Kapolei-Ala Moana route.
The State Historic Preservation Division signed off on the completed archaeological plans several weeks ago, and the City Council approved a special management area use permit last week that cleared the way for construction to resume.
Grabauskas said the delay has cost taxpayers between $30 million and $35 million.
That total does not include approximately $3 million the city has paid in legal fees to fight the two lawsuits against the project, nor does it include an unknown amount in indirect costs caused by the delays. Those could include higher prices for parts and equipment due to inflation or higher construction bids because of a busier construction economy, said Lance Wilhelm, senior vice president for HART's primary construction contractor, Kiewit Infrastructure West.
Rail critics say the startup is premature because of pending federal litigation. Should a decision go against the city, it could cost more to tear down the concrete columns now going up.
About 75 construction workers were back on the job Monday morning, Wilhelm said.
That number is expected to ramp up to about 1,600 employees and subcontractors in the first quarter of 2014, he said.
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