Interim executive director ready to turn things around for Honolulu rail project

No more surprises — that’s the goal for the new head of the Honolulu rail project.

Krishniah Murthy, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s interim executive director, has been two months into his job, and he sat down with KHON2 for a exclusive interview.

We pressed him for answers on how HART is going to stop rail’s price tag — now at $10 billion — from rising even higher.

Murthy says he loves a good challenge, and with more than 40 years of rail transit experience, he says he’s ready to take this on and turn things around.

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His first two months on the job have been about evaluating the management team to make sure they all know the challenges ahead. Murthy handpicked the people he wants in charge of how the rail money is spent.

“I think the cost containment and cost management has to be our everyday focus,” he said. “So that’s why (the finance group and the procurement group) are extremely important.”

Another important addition he tells us is someone in charge of risk management.

“So you’re really counting on far fewer surprises then?,” we asked. “Absolutely, we are being proactive,” Murthy replied, “not only with the risk manager himself, or herself, but we also have based on the lessons learned from the past work that we have done.”

As an example of lessons learned from the past is the work being done now on Dillingham Boulevard and to identify where all the underground utilities are located. Exploratory work to find underground utilities has led to some of the escalating costs.

But wasn’t such work done during the earlier parts of the rail project? “It was done in a generic way,” Murthy said. “When the first contracts were awarded, there was a sense of urgency to get this project moving, so some of the work was not totally rendered and done before the contracts were awarded.”

Murthy tells us he ideally would like the State Legislature to extend the rail tax surcharge indefinitely, because that’s the only way the project will cover the full 20 miles from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.

It will also help satisfy the Federal Transit Administration which is expecting a recovery plan from HART in April. If the FTA is not satisfied with the recovery plan, then it could pull part or maybe all of the $1.5 billion in funding.

If the State Legislature does not extend the surcharge, Murthy says a partnership with the private sector might help get the funding to complete the entire rail project.

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