Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, UH Law Professor Randall Roth and Retired Businessman Cliff Slater with their attorney outside federal court.
Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, UH Law Professor Randall Roth and Retired Businessman Cliff Slater with their attorney outside federal court.

“A mixed bag” and “another step in a long journey.” That’s how University of Hawaii Law Professor Randall Roth described Thursday’s ruling by Judge Wallace A. Tashima in a federal case challenging the city’s planned $5.2 billion elevated steel on steel rail project.

The ruling grants the plaintiffs’ injunction and temporarily halts any construction activities on phase 4 of the rail project, but it also allows the city to move forward with design, planning and engineering, and does not impact phases 1 through 3 of the project.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said: “This ruling is very reasonable, and is essentially what the City asked for. It will allow construction to resume after compliance with the Hawaii Supreme Court decision, while other work will continue. And the City can address remaining issues in a timely manner without undue burden.”

Comments from HART Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas echoed those of the mayor: “This is the news we had hoped for. 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. Oahu residents can look forward to seeing their rail system fully operational in 2019 as planned.”

While the city and its rail authority are claiming victory, Roth, one of eight plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit filed in May 2011, said there were parts of the ruling that the plaintiffs were pleased with.

The real estate acquisition and construction ban in phase 4, which includes the downtown Honolulu, Kakaako and Ala Moana areas, is especially hurtful to the city’s plans to speed the project along, Roth said.

Construction on the entire rail project is on hold because of a state Supreme Court ruling this fall that ordered the project to stop until the archeological surveys are completed along the entire 20-mile route.

The city began construction on the project this past summer, claiming it could segment the archeological survey into four parts. But the state court ruled the city broke the law when it began construction, and put the project is on hold until the city completes the remaining in town surveys for the project, and identifies any native Hawaiian burial sites that may be impacted by the rail.

Roth said the plaintiffs, who include former Gov. Ben Cayetano, Retired Judge Walter Heen, retired businessman Cliff Slater, Dr. Michael Uechi, Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Outdoor Circle and Sen. Sam Slom’s Small Business Hawaii Entrepreneurial Education Foundation, will meet to decide whether to appeal portions of the ruling, that is now final, to the Ninth Circuit Court.

Roth said he expects both sides will appeal parts of the decision they don’t agree with.

The ruling also discusses litigation costs, directing both to bear their own litigation costs.

Plaintiffs, who have spent some $400,000 of money raised privately, said the private attorneys hired by the city are doing whatever they can to increase the legal costs. Meanwhile taxpayers continue to cover the city’s litigation fees. The Honolulu City Council has authorized over $1 million to cover court costs.