- Paula Youngling has resigned as director of procurement for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), according to documents obtained by Honolulu Civil Beat, making her the second high-ranking official to leave the authority as it pivots to a $1.4 billion public-private partnership (P3) in order to complete the $9 billion problem-plagued Honolulu rail project. Youngling's resignation was effective Nov. 1.
- In a letter to Andrew Robbins, HART's executive director, Youngling wrote that Robbins and the agency "deserve to have a director of procurement whose policy views are more aligned with your project visions." Nicole Chapman, former deputy executive director of procurement, contracts and construction claims resigned in June. Board officials and onlookers have expressed concern about the institutional knowledge that is leaving right along with these and other former authority staff.
- The P3 will finish the last 4-mile leg of the rail into downtown Honolulu. The contract also includes 30-year maintenance and operations components, and, according to Progressive Railroading, HART has shortlisted three potential P3 partners and will announce the winner by the end of the year.
The 20-mile Honolulu rail project has had to navigate several obstacles since construction began in 2015. Amid cost overruns that have pushed the budget to almost double what it was when the authority started planning for the rail in 2012 and a six-year delay, there have been constant accusations of mismanagement.
One of the reasons that the authority decided to tackle the remainder of the project via a P3 is to help eliminate the risk of even higher costs as the line moves into downtown where crews could easily run into previously unmapped utilities and native burial grounds, as well as find themselves dealing with different types of subsoil. There was also a concern that construction could damage existing structures along the route.
Left to its own devices and judging by previous performance, trying to work through these potential conditions could have driven up the price of the rail to $13 billion, according to Panos Prevedouros, chair of the civil and environmental engineering department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Earlier this year, after a review of the authority's books and business dealings, the Hawaii state auditor's office characterized HART as "overpromising and under-delivering" on the new rail line.
The auditor also found that HART officials did not give the authority nor the Federal Transit Administration, which has agreed to contribute $1.5 billion to the project, the same information about cost and schedule delays. However, when it came to the audit process, auditor Leslie Kondo wrote in the state's report that HART was not cooperative with the state's review.
Soon after the audit report was released to the public, the U.S. Department of Justice started an investigation into potential activity in relation to the rail project and issued a subpoena to HART for approximately 30,000 documents. Since then, federal investigators have executed search warrants for Honolulu's and HART's rail records.