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Saturday, September 10, 2016
HART Whistleblower: Sinking Columns, Cracked Welds, Useless Designs, and Structural Failures
By News Release @ 4:13 AM :: 8605 Views :: Rail

Anonymous Letter Apparently Written Before the August 18 Dismissal of Grabauskas

As construction project professionals, we remain dedicated to the completion of the Honolulu Rail Transit Project (HRTP). It is out of deep concern that we must speak of what we believe to be the truth. We are asking for your help to successfully deliver Hawaii's largest CIP project.  As public servants we are ultimately accountable to the people of this city, which is why we are coming forth. We are subjected to a hostile work environment where threats of firing and retaliation are regularly experienced by dozens of staff and even consultants, therefore regrettably this letter is submitted anonymously.

When the HART CEO Dan Grabauskas was hired in April 2012, he to promised the HART Board, the Mayor, the City Council and community that the project would be delivered "Safely: On Time and On Budget". He declared his commitment to full transparency, open honest leadership, a workplace with mutual respect- "let me hear the problems from you." Instead, lack of transparency and detailed information has been the norm to the HART Board, the Council, the Mayor and staff are not receiving timely project information needed to make fully informed decisions.

Is the HART board negligent of their fiduciary duties by not providing adequate oversight of their CEO and the project? Instead of asking the hard questions the Board's leadership and members have awarded Grabauskas an "exemplary" or "exceeds expectations" on managerial, and leadership skills, communication skills and transparency, his performance rewarded with financial bonuses, all while they are kept in the dark. Are the HART Board's leaders complicit in their communications to the Mayor and City Council?

Under Grabauskas's leadership the budget has increased multifold and the project delivery date is projected to be late well beyond what the CEO has told the public at this time. As a consequence, the government officials and public have been told the reasons are: the lawsuits delayed the construction; Honolulu is experiencing the most expensive and competitive construction climate in the nation, and the extra time needed to secure the General Excised (sic) Tax. However, has the HART CEO fully informed the HART Board about all the additional costs and delays, and what future risks lie ahead?

For example, much has been made about the cost savings resulting from bidding the first nine stations in three packages, of three stations each. However, does the public know that was the original plan before Grabauskas came aboard? With little written justification and cost analysis, he authorized the combination of all nine stations into one large bid package, which came in way over budget, because the package was too large for the construction industry's capability.  Subsequently, the stations were superficially value engineered, separated back into three smaller packages and bid as originally planned. Naturally, these separate bids were lower that the previous combined bid. This resulted in additional time to repackage the station procurements and the expenditure of thousands of additional staff hours. Each decision made by the CEO to change project scope will likely result in project cost and schedule overruns.

What are some of the future risks that may impact the budget and schedule? The Airport guideway and stations were designed as a design-bid-build project. The preparation of the design-bid-build cost HART approximately $110 million to bring bid documents up to 80 to 90 percent level of completion. The CEO decided that it should be a design-build project rather than a design-bid-build. A design-build project requires the bid documents to include designs at only 30 percent level, which allows the contractor to design and construct with cost savings. The $110 million expenditure to bring the documents to the 80 to 90 percent level is typically not necessary for a design-build package. Therefore, a significant portion of the $110 million will be lost because the design-build contractor will not use all the designs that were initially developed.  In order for the Airport portion to come in on budget, the bids must be lower by the $110 million that is already expended.

The Pearl Highlands Parking Garage and Transit Center (PHGT), was deferred by Grabauskas as a cost savings without informing the HART Board, the Mayor and Council. Deletion of the PHGT would not be acceptable to the FTA, as it is in the Full Funding Grant Agreement. The PHGT, provides parking and bus transit connections from central and north shore Oahu to the Pearl Highlands station; one of the highest projected riderships. Instead, the CEO decided to construct a 1,600 car gravel parking lot at Ho'opili station. This requires central and north shore transit patrons to "backtrack" several miles to Ho'opili to use this gravel lot to connect to the system. Additionally, the gravel lot is not acceptable to HART safety and security.

Further, the FTA's Project Management Oversight Committee (PMOC) in their January 2016 report states that the undergrounding of the HECO high-power electrical lines is the most significant risk to the projects. This risk could lead to additional costs in the hundreds of millions that is not in the current project budget, and could lead to further project cost of overruns.  There are also safety concerns that should be addressed. While Grabauskas touts the accomplishments of miles of guideway built to date, he fails to mention the shoddy construction that raises safety and maintenance concerns when the system begins operations that may put the riders at risk. Has Grabauskas made full and timely disclosures to the HART Board, the Mayor and the City Council about Safety issues and concerns, and have these issues been reviewed and properly resolved?

1. Has there been settlement of the Westside guideway drilled shafts with columns sinking into the ground beyond acceptable engineering and construction tolerances that may result in safety and maintenance concerns if the settlement doesn't stop. How many columns does this involve, how much will the columns sink over time and when will it subside? This condition if not properly addressed will result in significant operations and maintenance costs, and passenger safety concerns.

2. Back in April 2015, media reported that large cracks had developed along the concrete segments now under construction, the most recent incident in February 2016. While minor cracking is to be expected, these major cracks are obvious structural failures that are not acceptable and extremely expensive to repair without the replacement of the entire involved segment. Does this present a safety and ongoing maintenance issue and what quality can be expected going forward for the next 14 miles?

3. The method that Kiewit used to attach the rail to the concrete guideway does not follow tested transit industry standards. Because of the way Kiewit designed the guideway, the rail attachment is subject to failure and expensive long-term maintenance, clearly a safety issue.  Usually the rail is attached to a concrete curb on the guideway called a plinth. Kiewit eliminated this plinth claiming cost effectiveness, and HART agreed. However, the solution has resulted in a potentially unsafe condition. Kiewit has substituted plastic material to serve as a "shim" rather than concrete to support the rail on the guideway. While this plastic shim has been used in other transit systems, the height of the plastic shim on the HART project is beyond tested tolerances. The thickness of the shims may cause the bolts anchoring the rail to be subjected to excessive shear under the dynamic load of the train. The multiple layers of plastic shim required to level the tracks may shift. Was HART forced to accept the plastic shims to not delay the project further and what are the safety risks going forward?

4. Reportedly there has been failed weld inspections on track work being done by Ansaldo and two rail car wheel assemblies called a truck, were rejected due to cracked welds. Is Ansaldo delivering a quality product? The CEO had just returned from inspecting the rail vehicles and knew of the cracked trucks. Did he disclose the failed truck assemblies to the HART board at the February 18, 2016 meeting?

5. February 14, 2016, a portion of the traveling formwork at the balance cantilever toppled off the guideway and was hanging precariously from the concrete structure as reported in the news on February 18, 2016. Should HART investigate any damage that the guideway structure may have suffered from the shifting weight load? Does this affect the stability of this guideway portion?

Does Grabauskas possess the construction experience and expertise to make critical decisions going forward? As mentioned earlier, the CEO has created a hostile work environment. Since his hire there has been over a 60 percent attrition rate through firing and resignations of combined embedded consultants and city staff. This is exceedingly high, and is a consequence of his decisions and leadership style. The palpable culture of fear and intimidation has lead to ill-informed management decision-making, and keeps the HART Board in the dark on critical project issues.

An immediate change in HART leadership is required as the project is at a critical juncture.  Further, we respectfully request an independent audit by qualified transit and construction industry professionals to review the project's safety, organizational structure, and governance.  There is little transparency and proper accountability and the public deserves better. We remain as always committed and dedicate to the successful completion of the project.


The Honorable Brian Schatz

The Honorable Maize Hirono

The Honorable David lge

The Honorable Shan Tsutsui

The Honorable Ronald Kouchi

The Honorable Will Espero

The Honorable Jill Tokuda

The Honorable Lorraine Inouye

The Honorable Joseph Souki

The Honorable Calvin Say

The Honorable Sylvia Luke

The Honorable Scott Nishimoto

The Honorable Henry J.C. Aquino

The Honorable Matthew S. LoPresti

The Honorable Kirk Caldwell

The Honorable Ernie Martin

The Honorable Kymberly Marcos Pine

The Honorable lkaika Anderson

The Honorable Trevor Ozawa

The Honorable Ann Kobayashi

The Honorable Carol Fukunaga

The Honorable Joey Manahan

The Honorable Brandon Elefante

The Honorable Ron Menor


Feb 18 2016 HART Board Materials

Feb 18 2016 HART Board Attachments

Feb 18 2016 HART Board Agenda




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