Thursday, November 19, 2009

Honolulu, labor unions sign rail pact; opposition still looms

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Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and 12 local labor unions have signed an agreement that will pay union workers prevailing wages to build Honolulu's $5.4 billion Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor project (HHCTC), while guaranteeing that those workers would not delay construction through a strike.

Among those signing the HHCTC agreement were unions representing carpenters, heavy equipment operators, iron workers, and roofers.

Hannemann said the deal also ensures that local workers would be employed on the planned 20-mile line. Construction is set to begin in 2010, with completion targeted by 2019.

But opposition to the project remains, and not just from more predictable sources such as anti-rail activists and/or NIMBYs. One faction of opponents to the current plan object to the decision to construct the line as (largely) an elevated rapid rail line, using automated technology.

That faction is preparing to file a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) in the preparation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The lawsuit would be served as soon as the Federal Transit Administration releases its Final EIS (FEIS) and issues a Record of Decision approving the project. The FEIS is not expected until early 2010.

Honolulu City Council members Duke Bainum and Charles Djou are among those questioning the specific choice of rail mode, noting other options, such as light rail, were dismissed prematurely. “When we voted on the Locally Preferred Alternative, at-grade or elevated wasn’t the question,” Djou said. “It was, Should we do a fixed-guideway system, and the answer there, of course, was, ‘Yes, we should.’”