Profile rises with rail contract
By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer
Kiewit Pacific Co. finally got its piece of a Honolulu rapid transit project — it just took nearly two decades.
Last month, the city awarded Kiewit a $482.9 million contract to build the first third of the planned 20-mile elevated rail line. It was the first construction contract awarded in the $5.5 billion project.
Kiewit was also part of the Honolulu Monorail Team that placed third in a competition to build a rail system in the early 1990s. That line was never built.
"This is our second go," said Lance Wilhelm, Hawaii area manager for Kiewit. "We're just really super excited to be part of the program."
The two losing finalists for the contract were a joint venture between Nordic PLC and Hawaii Dredging and a consortium composed of SNC-Lavalin, Flatiron and Ledcor.
Although Kiewit may not be a household name, the company has been involved in several high-profile Hawaii projects dating back at least 25 years. These projects include telescopes on Mauna Kea, H-3 Freeway, the widening of Kalanianaole Highway and the interisland terminal at Hono- lulu International Airport. The company also built the water desalination plant in Kapolei.
Ron Taketa, financial secretary of the 7,200-member Hawaii Carpenters Union, said Kiewit has been a progressive contractor that works well with unions.
"There's no reason to believe that anything but positives will come out of the award that they have received," Taketa said.
Kiewit's Hawaii work hasn't been without controversy and setbacks. In 1995 Steven Ouderkirk, a Kiewit carpenter, died after a concrete wall collapsed while he was working on H-3 Freeway below the tunnels. In 1994, construction trailers at a Kiewit base yard on Molokai were set on fire to protest a pipeline being built by the company. Some residents were concerned about losing water to resort development.
And in 1990, Kiewit buried an area that some Hawaiian groups said was a heiau, or ancient Hawaiian temple, while working on a portion of H-3 near Hospital Rock. Some studies suggested the site contained only agricultural terraces.
Nationally, Kiewit has worked on several major transit systems including the Vancouver, British Columbia Skytrain; the T-REX in Denver; and the Phoenix Metro.
Wilhelm, Kiewit's Hawaii head who was born and raised in Honolulu, said the firm's mix of local and national experience helped tip the scales in the company's favor on the new rail contract.
"We've been in Hawaii for 25-plus years doing a wide variety of work including quite a bit of work in that part of the world — the West Oahu area," he said. "When you have both the local knowledge and yet the technical expertise in having done similar work — that's probably what, in my mind anyway, gave us some advantage."
Kiewit Pacific is a wholly owned subsidiary of the privately owned Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Corp. The parent company was formed in 1884 by brothers Peter and Andrew Kiewit. Today, the employee-owned company is ranked fifth in a list of the top 400 U.S. contractors. according to Engineering News-Record, a weekly trade magazine. Overall, Kiewit had $8 billion in revenue last year.
Locally, Kiewit had sales of about $125 million and about 440 employees last year, Wilhelm said.
Kiewit's contract is for construction of the first phase of the rail project, which will run from Kapolei to Pearl Highlands near Leeward Community College. Later phases will connect that line to Ala Moana Center.
$260M IN CONTRACTS
Kiewit has received at least $260 million in state and city work in recent years, according to a search of state and city contracts. Those jobs include work on the North-South Road and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands office, which opened in May 2008 in Kapolei.
DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka said Kiewit built the agency's 50,000-square-foot, $20 million headquarters in Kapolei and installed roads, sewer and water lines for a housing development in upcountry Maui for the agency .
"The building came in within budget and on time," Yonenaka said. "The project on Maui — same thing. We can only give them high marks."
For Kiewit, the Honolulu transit deal is the company's biggest Hawaii contract. It's also likely to significantly raise the company's profile in the community.
"We've actually been kind of under the radar, which is OK," Wilhelm said. "I guess that's over for the time being."