Rail project opponents lose major legal battle

Honolulu’s staunchest rail opponents are ending their legal battle, saying they’ve run out of options. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor the city and federal transit officials.

The panel rejected the claims of opponents who said that the rail route and system were selected without properly studying alternatives, like a Beretania Street tunnel, and that the Federal Transit Administration failed fully to identify and evaluate Native Hawaiian burial sites before approving the Project.

According to the ruling, the FTA adequately explored Managed Lanes Alternative and bus rapid transit alternatives before choosing rail, and made a “reasonable and good faith” effort to identify burial sites. “The exact route and placement of the support columns had not yet been determined, and the surveys themselves were likely to disturb burial sites,” the ruling states. “Any changes to the plans would then result in repetition of the surveys and more disturbance to burial sites than would otherwise be necessary.”

“We looked at all the environmental impacts,” said Dan Grabauskus, CEO of Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. “We did it thoroughly, we did it correctly, and that’s a real vindication for the project. The public should know, if this was an extra exercise to review the work that we did, we got an A+ today.”

“We felt very strongly that rail was a bad idea. Elevated heavy rail was a bad idea for the island,” said rail opponent Randy Roth. “We continue to feel that way. We also felt that the city and HART didn’t comply with the law.”

A lower court previously dismissed those claims, and the appeals court affirmed that ruling. Opponents, including former Governor Ben Cayetano, had sued to stop construction and require other options to be surveyed.

The city spent $3 million defending its rail plan.

Click here to read the complete ruling online.

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