BY JIM DOOLEY – The City managed to attract three bidders for a new $300 million rapid transit consulting contract, but the winner was the same firm that has already received some $166 million in similar work.

PB Americas, Inc. landed the new job, an eight-year contract to provide general engineering and other services for the $5.3 billion elevated rail system that the city plans to run from Kapolei to central Honolulu.

Today, four rail opponents who are suing in federal court to stop the project called for an investigation into the quality of engineering work already performed by the City’s consultants.

The letter, signed by former Gov. Ben Cayetano and three other men, questioned the City’s oversight of PB

Ben Cayetano / http://farm3.static.flickr.com

Americas, noting that Department of Transportation Services director Wayne Yoshioka used to work for the firm and his wife still does.

“The same issue was specifically raised and vetted during the Transportation Services Director’s confirmation hearings before the City Council in 2008 and earlier this year,” Mayor Peter Carlisle said in a written response.

“On both occasions, no ethical violation was ever determined and the director’s appointment was confirmed,” Carlisle said.

PB Americas did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.

In 2005, when the company was known as Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, it landed a Honolulu rail consulting job worth $10.2 million. In 2007, PB Americas was awarded a preliminary rail engineering contract that was first priced at $86 million but has since grown to $156 million.

The company was selected June 30 for the new $300 million contract. The consultant must provide general engineering, planning and construction management services. Notice of the selection was publicly posted earlier this month.

Another company that was formed by three former Parsons executives, Infraconsult LLC, has received two Honolulu rail consulting jobs worth $48.2 million.

The City Council Auditor’s Office conducted a lengthy review of the Parsons/Infraconsult contracts in 2009, noting that fewer than three companies competed for each of the awards.

Local and federal procurement regulations customarily require at least three offers to be received when awarding such work.

The auditor’s report found that the city appropriately received waivers from the three-bidder requirement.

The latest contract was awarded after three companies offered to perform the work, according to procurement records.

Besides PBA, the bidders were AECOM Pacific and WPS Transit Consultants, according to the state’s procurement website.

AECOM Pacific is an engineering giant based in Los Angeles that merged with another firm active in Hawaii, M&E Pacific, in 2009.

The company was awarded a $3 million rapid transit design review contract by the City in June.

Nothing could be learned about WPS Transit Consultants. The company is not incorporated or licensed to do business in Hawaii, according to state records.

Transit officials did not respond to questions about the company or about the request for an investigation.

The request was in a letter signed by Cayetano, anti-rail activist Cliff Slater, University of Hawaii law professor Randall Roth and retired state judge Walter Heen.

All four are among the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed in May challenging the adequacy of the rail project’s environmental impact statement.

Other plaintiffs include a foundation headed by state Sen. Sam Slom, a supporter of Hawaii Reporter.

“We draw your attention to the glaring mistake someone made in routing the proposed railway and one of its train stations too close to protected airspace around Honolulu International Airport,” the letter said.

“In 2009 DTS director Yoshioka publicly stated that it would cost $29 million to fix the problem and that the entire amount could be ‘easily absorbed’ within the City’s contingency fund. He did not identify the party that made the mistake, nor did he explain why taxpayers should bear the cost of what presumably was someone’s negligence,” the letter continued.

The writers said the mayor, City Council or the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit “should conduct a full investigation into the circumstances of the routing mistake.”

Mayor Peter Carlisle

Carlisle fired back, saying, “It is incorrect and inflammatory to label the increase as ‘negligence’ or a ‘mistake’ when the purpose of the preliminary engineering phase was to identify this type of issue,” Carlisle responded.

“I am confident that the HART board will exercise proper oversight over rail construction and properly address the facts regarding the airport alignment,” the mayor said. “At all levels, the City must fulfill its responsibility to the taxpayers.”

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com