Legal Challenge to Honolulu Rail Project

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City’s rail rendering

BY CLIFF SLATER FOR HONOLULUTRAFFIC.COM – and seven other plaintiffs have filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the city’s $5.2 billion rail project.

Here’s what you need to know about our appeal:


First, in 2003, the Federal Transit Administration approved a Final EIS for the BRT plan prepared by Parsons Brinckerhoff, the City and the FTA, which “reaffirms selecting the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Alternative as the Locally Preferred Alternative.”

They also wrote, “Public input received in hundreds of Vision Team and Oahu Trans 2K meetings and workshops … [showed that] the predominant sentiment among thousands of participants was that a grade-separated [elevated rail] transit system would be unacceptably: (1) intrusive on the visual environment; (2) divisive of communities; and (3) too expensive.”

Second, federal environmental law requires that Honolulu had to, “Rigorously explore all reasonable alternatives,” to determine which would be the preferable alternative.

Third, when Mayor Hannemann took office in January 2005, he immediately wrote of his, “political decision … not to proceed further with any phase of the BRT project.” Note that this was a “political” decision, not one made on the merits as part of a formal environmental process.

Fourth, during the Alternatives Analysis phase of what became the rail project, the City and FTA failed to consider BRT a “reasonable alternative” despite only two years previously having declared it the “Locally Preferred Alternative.” Further testifying to its reasonableness, the 2003 BRT EIS had forecast more ridership for BRT than the City and FTA currently forecasts for rail — and at a tiny fraction of the cost of rail.

Fifth, Judge A. Wallace Tashima, the Federal Court District Court Judge presiding over this matter declared at the outset that he was unfamiliar with the most relevant statute concerning this issue, Section 4(f).

In short, the City and FTA failed to “rigorously explore all reasonable alternatives,” of which some variant of the 2003 BRT plan should have been explored.

The BRT issue is just one of the many contested ones detailed in our appeal, but for this issue, we clearly have the law on our side.

Here are the relevant links: The appeal, the 2003 Final BRT EIS (page 2 & page 2-57), the Hannemann letter.





  1. Legal matters are always difficult waters to navigate in without proper knowledge. Many things can happen if one is unaware. There are some services that are fast and reliable, such as Express Bail Bonds for example. Rail projects make no exception to this.

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