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Behind schedule, over budget: Change orders irk council members

  • Ikaika Rodenhurst

  • Construction continues on a $8.97 million Alii Drive culvert replacement project south of Kailua Village. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • One lane of Kilauea Avenue is closed for construction near the Lanikaula Street intersection in Hilo on Thursday. (Kelsey Walling/Hawaii Tribune-Herald)

A Hilo road repaving project that’s ballooned from $7.4 million to $12 million had the County Council Finance Committee on Tuesday asking the Department of Public Works to get a better grip on estimating the cost of roadwork.

The project repaving about a mile and a half of Kilauea Avenue ran into several problems, including gas and water lines not where the department thought they were and additional costs for curbs and sidewalks. Similar utility line problems were encountered on another Hilo road project, the anticipated $17.1 million Kalanianaole Avenue widening, which has had five change orders and is $1.3 million over budget and more than six months behind schedule.

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On the bright side, the $8.97 million Alii Drive culvert replacement project is right on schedule for completion this month. This earned praise from Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas.

“I know the community really appreciates it and finds it very comforting,” Villegas said, adding work is also ongoing on Kuakini Highway and Henry Street.

“We have some serious areas where people are continuing reaching out for support in Holualoa,” Villegas said. “We have some big road issues in Kona that we really could use some help with.”

The two Hilo projects were top of mind for the Finance Committee as it approved a change order for the Kilauea Avenue project.

Council members noted that the two Hilo projects preceded the current administration, but added the Department of Public Works needs to create a system that better anticipates and has room to respond to unknown factors such as utility lines. Costs for the two projects are being shared by the county and the state.

“You really inherited a lot of these things,” Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung told Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst. “Something is not right. … I think it would behoove you to look into the systemic issues.”

Accepting a bid from a contractor for a certain timeframe and cost amount and then tacking on such large change orders postponing the deadline and increasing the cost is not fair to other bidders on the project, said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy.

“Personally, as a bidder, I would be upset,” Lee Loy said.

The main problem, said Rodenhurst, is the as-built drawings, especially the older ones, don’t accurately reflect what’s under the ground, especially when it comes to utility lines.

“To some extent, construction is messy,” Rodenhurst said.

Still, said Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball, the department could evaluate its historical change orders and try to identify “known uncertainties.”

“How do you account for uncertainty in the scope of work and the bidding process?,” Kimball asked.

She suggested the department add a buffer based on the level of known uncertainty.

“If you know there’s a lot of uncertainty, you can increase the buffer,” Kimball said.

That’s not that easy, Rodenhurst replied.

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“It’s not a perfect process,” he said. “We don’t want to overestimate and have the money sitting there. … We don’t want to underestimate and have giant change orders.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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