BY JIM DOOLEY – A federal judge today listened to new arguments in the legal challenge to Honolulu’s $5.3 billion rapid transit project and said he will rule shortly on whether to order a halt to the project.
The hearing before U.S. 9th Circuit Appellate Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima centered on how the city should address three areas which the judge singled out for concern among dozens cited by plaintiffs who want the project stopped.
Those areas – whether the city and federal officials properly assessed an alternate route under Beretania Street and adequately studied sites of cultural and historic significance in the rail’s path – are the only unresolved issues remaining in the May 2011 suit filed by a group of plaintiffs that includes former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano.
Cayetano, who was in court but said nothing after the hearing, ran unsuccessfully for Honolulu Mayor this year on an anti-rail platform.
City lawyer Robert Thornton noted Cayetano’s defeat in arguments today, saying it was the latest in a series of votes by Honolulu residents that displayed resounding community support for the 20-mile elevated railway project.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Nicholas Yost, argued that deficiencies in the city-federal project plans should justify a halt to planning and construction of the fourth and final stage of the line, running from Kalihi to Ala Moana Shopping Center.
And those same defects might be enough to halt work on the other three stages which run from Kapolei to Kalihi, Yost argued.
Thornton said halting the project would have an “enormous impact” on the city, jeopardizing $1.55 billion in federal funding and throwing thousands of people out of work.
After the 90-minute morning hearing, Yost said, “We thought it went very well.”
Yost said he was pleased by the fact that Tashima, at the outset of the hearing, expressed concern that rail planners must “really have an open mind” on the possible alternative route that would include a tunnel under Beretania Street in downtown Honolulu.
“We find that very encouraging,” Yost said.
City Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Takeuchi said the project planners are dealing with the issues raised by the plaintiffs and by Tashima “in good faith.”
“We clearly stated that was the case, we would have an open mind, we wouldn’t foreclose any alternatives and we weren’t intending to do anything but meet the kinds of concerns that the judge had,” Takeuchi said.