Back on track? HI public works project to restart after year-long delay
ON TRACK? Those opposed to the city’s plan to build a heavy elevated steel rail system from West Oahu to Honolulu for $5.2 billion say the project violates federal environmental protection laws.
by Malia Zimmerman, September 3, 2013, Watchdog.org
HONOLULU — The city’s Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation will resume construction this month, Watchdog.org has learned.
Work on Hawaii’s most expensive public works project, a 20-mile, $5.2 billion elevated steel rail, has been on hold for the past year because of a legal challenge.
HART Executive Director and CEO Daniel A. Grabauskas said the State Historic Preservation Division last week approved an archaeological survey report for the Honolulu rail transit project. This came after the city completed a court-mandated archeological inventory survey on the entire route, which included digging 400 trenches along the way.
Grabauskas said HART is working with the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting to submit the necessary permit applications to the Honolulu City Council for review and approval.
“Getting back to work after the year-long legal delay is essential to completing the project on time and on budget ― that’s our goal,” Grabauskas said.
A Hawaii State Supreme Court ruling in August 2012 halted construction on the controversial rail project. The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation represented native Hawaiian Paulette Kaleikini in challenging the city’s decision to begin construction before completing an archeological survey on the entire route.
The high court unanimously ruled in her favor, writing “it is undisputed that the rail project has a ‘high’ likelihood of having a potential effect on archeological resources….” and could affect the burials of Kaleikini’s ancestors and other native Hawaiians. They ordered the city to complete the archeological survey on the entire four segments before restarting the project.
HART maintains the surveys were completed in January in partnership with the Oahu Island Burial Council and State Historic Preservation Division.
The Honolulu City Council must now approve a Special Management Area Use permit, which probably won’t be an issue because the majority of the council supports the rail project.
HART still must clear at least one more major legal hurdle if it wants to open the first 10 miles of the rail system — between Kapolei and Aloha Stadium — by 2017 and the entire 20-mile route by 2019.
A federal appeal on the project is pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel Aug. 15 heard oral arguments from eight plaintiffs asking to stop construction. More legal matters related to the same case are pending in U.S. District Court.
The plaintiffs, who include former Gov. Ben Cayetano, are challenging the legality of the city and county of Honolulu’s selection process, saying the city failed to properly study transportation alternatives such as a Bus Rapid Transit System and managed lanes in its environmental impact statement.
The city disputes the plaintiffs’ claims. If completed, the rail would not only be the city’s most expensive public works project but also would be the most expensive rail line per mile in the country.