Spe­cial­ized HECO trucks and cranes would al­low some wires to re­main above ground along the rail line’s first 11 miles

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Marcel Honoré mhonore@starad­ver­tiser.com

Lo­cal rail of­fi­cials and Hawai­ian Elec­tric Co. say they’ve agreed to a cheaper fix for many of the util­ity-line clear­ance prob­lems that have plagued Oahu’s el­e­vated tran­sit pro­ject, sav­ing about $140 mil­lion. Un­der the new $61.5 mil­lion plan, which was un­veiled at Thurs­day’s Honolulu Author­ity for Rapid Trans­porta­tion board meet­ing, most of the over­head power lines run­ning along the rail route’s first 11 miles from East Kapolei to Aloha Sta­dium would stay put, and HECO crews would work on them us­ing new, spe­cial­ized trucks and cranes.

The plan avoids a costlier, $200 mil­lion worst-case sce­nario for HART and the city, in which all of those lines would have been re­lo­cated un­der­ground to avoid rail’s con­crete path­way.

In­stead, the city will pay for the new equip­ment and the cost to put just some of the lines un­der­ground. The agree­ment fol­lows about four years of wran­gling be­tween HART and HECO to re­solve the clear­ance prob­lems. By 2015 they posed the “most sig­nif­i­cant risk” to rail, ac­cord­ing to Ja­cobs Engi­neer­ing, the in­de­pen­dent firm over­see­ing the pro­ject.

“This was an ex­pert-level puz­zle, and solv­ing it took a lot of peo­ple at Hawai­ian Elec­tric and HART ex­plor­ing op­tions and then test­ing so­lu­tions out in the field,” said Jim Kelly, HECO’s vice pres­i­dent for cor­po­rate re­la­tions. “There are still some ar­eas that will be chal­leng­ing and some clear­ances that will be tight, but we think we can make it work.” Thurs­day’s cost-sav­ing plan does not in­clude the over­head power lines that run along the nar­row Dilling­ham Boule­vard cor­ri­dor, how­ever. The city will still have to pay an es­ti­mated $70 mil­lion to re­lo­cate those power lines un­der­ground to get them out of the way, ac­cord­ing to Bren­non Mo­rioka, HART’s deputy di­rec­tor. The semi-au­tonomous rail agency aims to save more costs and avoid putting the lines — cur­rently on nine 138-kilo­volt poles be­tween Aloha Sta­dium and Mid­dle Street — un­der­ground. Do­ing so largely de­pends on HART se­cur­ing the land ease­ments it needs from the Navy near those poles, Mo­rioka added.

HECO had warned rail con­sul­tants in 2009 that its work­ers would need clear­ances of 50 feet to safely ac­cess high-volt­age power lines near the guide­way, but the is­sue was ne­glected un­til 2013. The city started build­ing rail shortly af­ter­ward without a so­lu­tion. Since then the prob­lem has be­come a top pri­or­ity for rail of­fi­cials — and they’ve bud­geted an added $300 mil­lion to deal with it.

THURS­DAY’S UTIL­ITY plan rep­re­sents a rare in­stance of good bud­get news for the is­land’s cash-strapped pro­ject, which has seen its pro­jected cost nearly dou­ble from $5.26 bil­lion in 2014 to about $10 bil­lion to­day.

The roughly $140 mil­lion that HART ex­pects to save from its util­ity-re­lo­ca­tion bud­get will go into rail’s con­tin­gency fund, Mo­rioka added. HECO needs as much as 50 feet of clear­ance for the “bucket” trucks that carry its main­te­nance crews to gain ac­cess to over­head lines, ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal util­ity. Rail and util­ity of­fi­cials since 2014 have been test­ing other trucks and equip­ment de­signs that might safely give HECO’s work crews the ac­cess they need to the power lines on the rail route’s west side. Those stretches of the route — along Kualakakai Park­way, Far­ring­ton High­way and Kame­hameha High­way — of­fer enough space that spe­cial equip­ment might solve the prob­lem more cheaply than re­lo­cat­ing power lines.

The crews “started re­view­ing every­thing on a pole-by-pole ba­sis,” Kelly said Thurs­day.

HART and HECO of­fi­cials trav­eled to Colorado to test some equip­ment, Mo­rioka told the HART board Thurs­day. Even­tu­ally, the two en­ti­ties agreed that spe­cial­ized Al­tec-brand bucket trucks and Phoenix-brand cranes would work for most of the over­head lines on the west side.

Dilling­ham Boule­vard re­mains too nar­row for that so­lu­tion to work, how­ever, Mo­rioka said. It’s part of rail’s fi­nal 4-mile stretch head­ing into the crowded ur­ban core, a stretch that has seen its pro­jected costs swell by nearly $1 bil­lion. The city will also have to cover the costs for HECO to find ad­di­tional stor­age for the new trucks to serve the power lines along the rail guide­way, Mo­rioka said. HART doesn’t yet have an es­ti­mate for that cost, he added.

Rail lead­ers, in­clud­ing Honolulu Mayor Kirk Cald­well, are ask­ing state law­mak­ers for an­other rail-tax ex­ten­sion to res­cue the tran­sit pro­ject.

This was an ex­pert-level puz­zle, and solv­ing it took a lot of peo­ple at Hawai­ian Elec­tric and HART ex­plor­ing op­tions and then test­ing so­lu­tions out in the field. There are still some ar­eas that will be chal­leng­ing and some clear­ances that will be tight, but we think we can make it work.”

Jim Kelly

HECO’s vice pres­i­dent for cor­po­rate re­la­tions

Above, rail con­struc­tion snakes be­tween util­ity poles on Kame­hameha High­way.


Rail’s el­e­vated guide­way is too close to the power lines that run along­side it for Hawai­ian Elec­tric Co. crews to ac­cess those lines in the util­ity’s stan­dard “bucket” trucks. The is­sue was ne­glected for years. Now the city will buy spe­cial trucks that can ma­neu­ver in that space — a move that’s ex­pected to be much cheaper than putting the lines un­der­ground.


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