Friday, December 28, 2012

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Honolulu rail

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A U.S. District Judge in Hawaii has ruled that the city and county of Honolulu can proceed with Oahu's $5.2 billion elevated rapid rail project.

Judge A. Wallace Tashima issued a four-page ruling Thursday saying the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) could continue with construction on most of the projected 20-mile route. Construction is still blocked on Phase 4 of the route, which still requires approval from the Federal Transit Administration.

HART will be required to issue a status report on its compliance efforts every 90 days.

The project has been criticized by those opposed to passenger rail on economic grounds, and also by some pro-rail advocates arguing that the modal choice is not the best fit for the city and county.

But HART, in a statement, made it clear it was buoyed by the judge's decision. "The judge's ruling allows us to complete the remaining work requested by the court while keeping the project on schedule. These additional studies will be completed next year, well in advance of when construction was scheduled to begin in the City Center area."

The judge's ruling does not affect an earlier Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that required HART to complete survey work for the entire project before construction could resume. That lawsuit is still pending, but HART officials say they have completed all of the trench work needed to complete the archaeological survey.

The route will run from Kapolei, on the west side of Oahu, to downtown Honolulu, with 21 stations, including stops at Pearl Harbor and Honolulu International Airport. Passenger projections call for 116,300 daily riders by 2030.

The U.S. Department of Transportation finalized an agreement with the city and county of Honolulu on the project last Dec. 19. Federal funds of $1.8 billion, overseen by the FTA, will be contributed to the project.