RAILROADED: Small businesses along the planned Honolulu rail route are concerned the rail construction will put them out of business.
BOON OR BOONDOGGLE? The city gets the go ahead from a key agency to resume construction on the city’s controversial rail project

A year after a Hawaii State Supreme Court ruling halted construction on Honolulu’s controversial $5.2 billion elevated steel on steel rail project, construction will likely resume in a matter of weeks, according to a statement issued Friday by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

The Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation represented native Hawaiian Paulette Kaleikini when she challenged the city’s decision to begin construction before completing an archeological survey on the entire route.

The high court unanimously ruled last August that “it is undisputed that the rail project has a ‘high’ likelihood of having a potential effect on archeological resources….” and could impact 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 after workers excavated more than 400 trenches along the rail route as part of the archaeological study.

This week, the State Historic Preservation Division approved the archaeological survey report for the Honolulu rail transit project.

“This approval is a major step forward,” said HART Executive Director and CEO Daniel A. Grabauskas. “We are now working with the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting to submit the necessary permit applications to the City Council for their 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.”

The Honolulu City Council must now approve the Special Management Area Use permit, which is unlikely to be an issue since the majority of the council is solidly behind the rail project.

However HART still must clear at least one more major legal hurdle if it wants to stick to its plan 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 is pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. A three-judge panel heard oral arguments Thursday, August 15, from eight plaintiffs asking them to stop construction of the city’s rail system.

The plaintiffs, who include former Gov. Ben Cayetano, retired Judge Walter Heen, businessman Cliff Slater, University of Hawaii Law Professor Randall Roth, Sen. Sam Slom’s Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation, the Outdoor Circle, Dr. Michael Uechi and Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, are challenging the legality of the City & County of Honolulu’s selection process for rail.

They maintain the city did not properly study transportation alternatives such as a Bus Rapid Transit System and managed lanes in its environmental impact statement.

Yost, who authored the National Environmental Policy Act, asked the judges to stop to the rail project and force the city to redo the official Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision.

“The failure to consider bus rapid transit and managed lanes to me was arbitrary and capricious because nowhere in the EIS is there a reasonable explanation as to why these things weren’t considered,” Cayetano said.

In 2003, former Mayor Jeremy Harris’ administration selected BRT as the best system for the island, and the company that made the recommendation for BRT and then rail, Parsons Brinkerhoff, was the same.

The city disputes the plaintiffs’ claims that anything was improper.

Robert Thomas, a Hawaii attorney who attended oral arguments in San Francisco, said the federal appeal may be dismissed for lack of appellate jurisdiction, because there are still outstanding issues in the Honolulu District Court.

Slater said about the HART news release issued Friday: “HART released news of a SHPD approval of the City Center AIS, which, funnily enough, SHPD approved three days ago on Tuesday. There is nothing like releasing news on Friday afternoon before a long weekend to keep the citizenry napping.”

“Of course, HART has yet to post the Report itself even though they have had since Tuesday to do it. They certainly do not want the opposition picking holes in the report before the news cycle runs out. Mr. Grabauskas promised us transparency. Did he mean that we would see right through HART’s games.”

If completed, the rail will be the most expensive rail line per mile in the country.