Jan. 9--Not only will the first 10 miles of the Honolulu rail system be completed by December 2020 as predicted, but it will be ready to run three months earlier, by Oct. 20, announced a sanguine Andrew Robbins, executive director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, at a Wednesday press conference overlooking the Halaulani Rail Station at Leeward Community College.
Robbins said he was so confident of the new date that he was willing to stick his neck out.
"The first 10 miles, from East Kapolei through this area to Aloha Stadium, the target date to have it ready is 10 /20, " Robbins said of the inaugural segment of the elevated, heavy rail system that has been beleaguered by cost overruns and delays, running almost six years behind schedule with a budget that has swelled to $9.2 billion from $5.12 billion in 2012.
"So 10 miles after 20, it was almost preordained, " he added ; the entire rail project, 20 miles in length, is now forecast to be completed by 2025.
"Despite all the challenges we face, like any mega project, the project is now stable and we've maintained the schedule and budget for three years now, " Robbins continued, praising his team and their partners in the city administration, City Council and at Hitachi Rail Honolulu, some of whom flanked him at the podium. "We're pumped and ready to go to make this happen."
Which doesn't guarantee the trains will be running by Oct. 20, because operating the system is the kuleana of the city Department of Transportation Services, whereas HART's responsibility is to design, construct, test and make the system ready to run, Robbins said.
Wes Frysztacki, city director of transportation serv ices, said his office is preparing a budget that assumes the first portion of the system will actually open for operations on Dec. 20.
"If the system is really ready to be used in October, then we can talk about perhaps taking some of that budget and applying it for earlier service, " Frysztacki said. "I think we're a few months away from that determination."
Robbins then said it is HART's responsibility to have the system ready to open to the public, "and I'm willing to stick my neck out that we will have that done by October."
He also announced a delay in the process of awarding a contract for a public-private partnership, or P3 agreement, to complete the final segment from Middle Street to Ala Moana Center, extending the bidders' deadline to April to submit their proposals, with the contractor to be selected by May and the contract in place by June. Most recently, HART officials had said they would.
However, Robbins assured, this would not affect the ultimate completion date.
Hitachi Rail Honolulu said it will be hiring 145 people, 95 % of whom would be local, in 2020 to prepare for the start of operations, said Robert Beadle, program director.
The company was developing a relationship with Leeward Community College, he added, "taking six graduates on board now, and we'll take on more next spring, " while also working with the state Department of Education and HART on instituting a mentorship and internship program at high schools.
All things considered, Robbins said, the HART team feels they're "ahead of schedule in terms of operational readiness."
Testing was underway, working closely with DTS and the state Department of Transportation, which is responsible for safety certification efforts.
"We had a review with the Federal Transit Administration before the holidays and it was realized we're well ahead of schedule in terms of certification activities, " Robbins said.
Robbins said the project was "fine in terms of cash flow, " with FTA ready to resume the release of federal funding, with "only the first tranche (to be ) a bit delayed."
Robbins said it would be great to be able to demonstrate the working system by football season this year, "for people to realize they can leave the car at home and use the rail to get to a game, " and better still, to make it a reality this year.
Meanwhile, he announced, there would be a community day Feb. 8 at the Halaulani Rail Station to which the public would be invited to inspect the facilities and get into a rail car, although the trains will not be able to move with riders on board until they're safety certified.
He also took care to acknowledge and thank former Mayor Mufi Hanneman, who stood in the audience holding an umbrella against the West Oahu drizzle, for his "leadership and continued support " of the rail project.------Star-Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief Kevin Dayton contributed to this report.------
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