by Andrew Walden
The Federal Transportation Administration has granted the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation permission to spend up to $184.7M on rail design build contracts. Specifically excluded from the federal go-ahead is construction of a “casting yard” necessary to build the pre-formed concrete spans which make up most of the rail project.
The FTA “Letter of No Prejudice” could face a court challenge from anti-rail environmental litigants who may ask the Federal Court for an injunction preventing further rail construction. (Update: Cliff Slater and Randy Roth say the litigants will not be seeking a preliminary injunction. See comments below.) HART’s strategy is based largely on the belief that the project will not be shut down once the first spike is driven in the ground. HART has already incurred $19M in change orders due to what the FTA describes as an effort to "demonstrate to the public that tangible progress was being made."
Having demanding HART show greater financial resources to fund rail construction, the FTA granted HART spending authority only after Mayor Peter Carlisle January 31 agreed to take out an additional $100M revolving line of credit and earmark an existing $350M line of credit for rail construction. The $350M was to have been used for sewer lines, thus bringing criticism from anti-rail Mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano who told a Downtown Exchange Club audience Friday, that the 0.5% rail GE Tax surcharge would be better used to fund bus and sewer improvements.
The conflict between rail and sewer construction was also a factor in Legislative opposition to a proposal to lift land-use restrictions on land near rail stations. According to Civil Beat February 6:
City Department of Planning and Permitting Director David K. Tanoue also opposed the measure, suggesting state legislators could do more to promote transit-oriented development along the Honolulu rail corridor if they would help the city finance sewer, water or other infrastructure along the rail route.
The City of Honolulu is under an EPA mandate to upgrade its Sand Island sewage treatment plant to eliminate the discharge of partially-treated sewage into the ocean. The project has been widely estimated to cost $2B. Sewer rates are also scheduled to increase sharply over coming years to fund long-overdue repairs on the city's aging sewer system.
Full Text: Honolulu LONP 2 6-2012
CB: Feds' Green Light To Heat Up Honolulu Rail Fight
HNN: Rail 'advanced construction' given federal approval
PBN: FTA: Honolulu may spend $185M on rail project
UPDATE: Cliff Slater and Randy Roth issued the following statement February 6:
Essentially, this permission merely continues the city’s ability to risk city taxpayer dollars. There is still no guarantee that there will be any federal dollars. All the letter does it tell the city it may collect federal funds should they ever be available.
Since the City is starting construction in agricultural land they tell us that if we prevail in our lawsuit in August, and we believe we will, they will replace and repair all that they will have constructed up to that time. Under environmental law that is not considered causing “irreparable harm” to the environment.
For that reason, we have not sought so far a preliminary injunction to stop this initial construction. The city has planned all along to start at the farm end of the line in order to pre-empt anyone from filing for a preliminary injunction under environmental law.
We should be clear that the City is not risking federal dollars with this permission to proceed; it is risking city taxpayer dollars.
As taxpayers we find it unfortunate that the city intends to risk spending $185 million and similar millions of dollars to repair and replace what they construct but under the law that is a money problem and not an environmental problem.
Our position is that the city violated federal law and we, and our lawyers, expect to prevail. In this matter the judge will not consider the amount spent but only consider the matter on its merits under environmental law.