City Says Construction on Controversial Rail Project May Restart as Early as September

RAILROADED: Small businesses along the planned Honolulu rail route are concerned the rail construction will put them out of business.
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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.






  1. Best wishes on challenging the legality of the City & County of Honolulu’s selection process for rail.
    I wonder if any lawyer studied HART's rail conflicting with the state.
    Rail ignores the state's Environmental Council's annual report and Neil's new day plan,and Hawaii Sustainability 2050, Hawaii Green Growth Initiative. To start off, go to the Office of Environmental Quality Control (oegc)
    To view a copy of the annual report go to The Annual Report or

  2. It seems like an article ending with "If completed, the rail will be the most expensive rail line per mile in the country" does have some bias. After all, also gas prices in Hawaii are and probably will be the most expensive in the country. Just as the price of many other goods in higher here. The rail line's costs have a good reason though: Hawaii will have one of the best rail lines in the country. Unlike lots of other public transport rail lines in the country, it does not interfere with street traffic. Running in mixed traffic would not only obstruct the flow of car traffic, it also makes rail comparatively slow. The rail system built now will always be on it's own right-of-way, so it will be fast, and it can even be run automatically. That means huge savings in operating costs, and better service even at off-peak hours. Normally the driver's salary is one of the biggest cost factors, so there are less trains running for example in the midday, in the evenings, or on the weekend and holidays. With automated systems like the Copenhagen metro, which is built on similar technology like the one in Honolulu, trains can run every 90 seconds and even every 6 minutes in off peak times, so there is never a long wait to catch the next ride.
    Here is a link to the Copenhagen system:
    This is a huge increase in comfort and convenience for all riders. Today, taking bus 19 or 20 from the airport to Ala Moana Center takes over 45 minutes in rush hour traffic. That is the scheduled traffic time, of course with all the congestion, it can actually even take much longer. Once Honolulu Rail is all up and running, it will only take 16 minuts. And in opposition to waiting up to 15 minutes or longer for the next bus, for most parts of the day the trains will run every few minutes. Honolulu Rail is a huge benefit for visitors and residents alike.

    • Are you living on Oahu? You forget that traffic WILL be screwed for the next 7 years!
      •Old Farrington Highway between Kualakai Parkway (North-South Road) and Old Fort Weaver Road Loop will be closed beginning Monday, September 16 through March of next year as part of construction for the Honolulu rail transit project.
      Traffic in both directions of Old Farrington Highway will be detoured to either the H-1 Freeway or other nearby roadways.

      Drivers will still be able to travel between East Kapolei and the Ewa/Waipahu region by using either Kapolei Parkway or Geiger Road on the south end of Kualakai Parkway, or the H-1 Freeway on the north end.

      Daytime lane closures will take place from Monday, September 16 to Friday, September 20 between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m
      For more, go to;

    • FT, you obviously do not live on Oahu, there are not many people that will take your "16 min" ride from Airport to Ala Moana, and even in traffic, it does NOT take 45 minutes. Regardless, the ones taking that route will either have carry ons or suitcases so they'd have to lug it on to the practically seatless rail cabs? yikes!
      what this tiny island does need is smart traffic/ road planning, the lights in metro honolulu have to be synchronized (especially near Punahou offramp!) if congestion is lightened in town it WILL alleviate some of the back ups on the freeway.
      The Rail will NOT benefit visitors and residents as it will be WAY TOO EXPENSIVE for what it offers!~

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