Honolulu’s rail station costs far exceed pricetags in other cities

Text Alex Kekauoha

Bids for the West Oahu group of rail stations came in last week, and the prices that construction companies are offering are substantial. Add to that the pickings are slim – only four companies entered bids for the group, which includes the East Kapolei, UH West Oahu and Ho’opili stations. The dearth of contractor options means less competitive prices and a growing bill for taxpayers. The offers are as follows:

Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co - $73,400,000
Hensel Phelps - $67,234,000
Watts Constructors LLC - $66,543,692
Nan, Inc - $56,088,470

Nan, Inc’s bid is the only offer falling below the city’s estimates of $60-75 million. All four companies also submitted bids for the Farrington Highway group in March. Those offers came in well above estimates with the highest bidder, Hawaiian Dredging Co., awarded the contract.

One of the major factors determining the cost of constructing these rail stations is location. HART CEO Dan Grabauskas said offers this time around were substantially lower than the Farrington group bids because the less urban location of the West Oahu stations means crews won’t have to circumvent traffic, which drives up costs. “The contractor is going to have real free access to be able to do that construction and not have to worry about meeting deadlines to move cones by rush hour,” said Grabauskas. That means stations built closer to downtown Honolulu will cost significantly more due to the increased traffic and population, further driving up rail’s price tag.

Still, estimating costs of building rail stations can be complicated. Construction costs are highly dependent on variables unique to the location, such as markets, the environment, geography, topography, population, etc. Despite this, modern rail stations in other cities are being constructed for much less than the offers coming in for Honolulu’s rail stations.

In the United Kingdom, transit officials spent £20 million, or more than $31 million, to build four modernized rail stations. That’s less than half of what most of last week’s bidders are offering for just three stations in West Oahu. Like those stations, the UK stations are located in smaller, less urban areas, with similar features. British transit officials managed to spend the equivalent of just $2.2 million on one of those stations. Nan, Inc, on the other hand, is offering $56 million for three, or roughly $18 million for one West Oahu station.

The city of Charlottesville, Virginia managed to construct a multi-use transit hub of considerable size for far less than one West Oahu station. Faced with challenges like urban density, existing infrastructure and grade-differentials, officials there spent just $6.1 million. Meanwhile, the Newport Transit Station near Minneapolis cost just $2.5 million to build. Adding-in demolition and cleanup costs, the final bill still came out to just $6.45 million. And in Boston, where the transit authority is mired in debt, one company decided to build its own transit station that would connect to the city’s existing system. Athletic company New Balance is spending between $14 -16 million to construct a commuter rail station that will link its growing headquarters to the rest of the city.

Meanwhile Nan, Inc. has proposed spending at least that much on just construction for a single station in West Oahu. The company’s bid itemized some major costs as followed:

Mobilization – $1,935,700
Construction work for UH West Oahu Station – $16,449,600
UH West Oahu Platform Girders – $2,731,100
UH West Oahu Canopy Structure – $1,819,800
Construction work for East Kapolei Station - $11,554,900
East Kapolei center platform – $1,976,500
East Kapolei Canopy Structure – $1,291,700
Construction work for Ho’opili Station – $10,234,300
Ho’opili Platform Griders – $2,062,900
Ho’opili Canopy Structure – $1,796,900

Still, Nan, Inc’s low bid is no guarantee it will be selected. The review process is expected to take at least a few weeks before the city awards a contractor. The city will issue a request for bids on the Kamehameha Highway stations in August.


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