Rail station construction bids still high as HART juggles costs

Construction contract bids for a group of stations for the Honolulu rail system project were unsealed Tuesday with all amounts higher that the city’s estimates.

Bids were anticipated to be in $60 million-$75 million range. Tuesday’s bids ranged from a low of $79 million to $117.5 million.

The contract would cover stations at Leeward Community College, Waipahu Transit Center and West Loch.

The bids for rail’s Farrington Highway station group are:

  • Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company – $78,999,000
  • Hensel Phelps – $88,016,525
  • Nan Inc. – $85,074,478
  • Ralph S. Inouye Co. Ltd. – $117,515,520
  • Watts Constructors LLC – $88,803,553

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) will review and validate the bids and award the contract to the lowest qualified bidder. That award is expected to be announced later this month.

Despite the amounts, the bids are still, however, lower than what it would have cost the city in previous bids that were canceled in September 2014.

HART initially sought separate contracts for each of the first nine rail stations. But plans were scrapped when the bids came in 63 percent higher than expected. Work has now been bundled in order to save money.

Not only is the cost for the rest of the 21 stations up in the air, so are some other big unknowns with construction already running a deficit.

Always Investigating’s past rail-related investigations have delved into whether there will be enough electrical power for the train and at what cost, and a whole new substation is needed near West Loch, with HART and HECO still going back and forth over it.

“Has there been any traction since then in terms of who is going to pay for what? Is it HART? Is it HECO?” Always Investigating asked.

“It’s a little bit of both,” said HART CEO Dan Grabauskas. “Those aspects of the project for power that relate just to HART will be the responsibility of HART to pay for, but theres a lot of shared costs that they’re going to need to put in infrastructure along the rail route that we’re going to just be able to share. We’re working out those details right now.”

It’ll take at least $63 million just to relocate utility poles, lines and other stuff along the train’s path. HART is already planning to pay for that, but a recent federal oversight report says the undergrounding of a portion of those overhead lines was unexpected and the cost unknown.

“In a couple of months, we’re going to put out the final contract for all the utility relocations here in the city center area. We’re doing that as a separate contract ahead of the construction contracts of the station and guideway as another way to reduce risk for those guys, so that we’ll say all the utilities will be out of your way before you do work,” Grabauskas said.

“The bid will go out later this summer. I don’t know if we have a price yet on the estimate,” he added.

Always Investigating also examined the state’s accounting and payouts of the surcharge on general excise tax — a federal report pegs it $40 million behind so far. HART also hopes to extend the sunset on the surcharge taxpayers shell out.

When asked how far the train could go without the GE tax extension, Grabauskas said, “That’s a complicated question. I guess the first thing I’d say is the Federal Transit Administration recently reminded a delegation from our city council that we signed a contract with the FTA to build this station 20 miles, 21 stations, 80 rail cars, so we’ve got to finish the project… The GET extension or some form of revenue is critical for us to execute all future contracts later this year or early next year, period.”

Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi disagrees.

“I don’t think the FTA is so heartless that they would cause the city to go bankrupt rather than negotiate,” she said. “They haven’t reached the expensive part of the project with the middle of town and all the stuff they’re going to encounter when they go there.”

As for overruns for the unexpected, expect double-digit padding. Things like change orders have been millions and mounting.

“One is we have a budget for the actual construction itself and we have a 13 percent contingency on top of that. All of our construction contracts carry contingency, same for this project,” Grabauskas said.

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