Earlier this year, a Hawaii circuit judge sided with the city when a resident challenged the legality of the city’s piecemeal approach to the Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS), a required step in the process of approval for construction of the rail. Opponents of the multi-billion dollar rail project may have been discouraged by the judge’s decision, but they’re not giving up. In fact, they’re taking their concerns to a higher court.
Former Governor Ben Cayetano, along with former state appellate Judge Walter Heen, state Senator Sam Slom and Cliff Slater filed a lawsuit in District Court last week against the city, citing historic preservation, environmental, and transportation law violations. The group is also contesting the legality of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDT) approval of the project, a step that is required for federal funding, but was arguably unlawful. Current law states that the secretary may approve projects that require the use of historically significant lands only if there are no feasible alternatives. Rail opponents argue that the city did not thoroughly investigate alternatives before seeking USDT approval.
In spite of these roadblocks, City Managing Director Doug Chin insists they will continue on with the project as planned. “Any sort of lawsuit that comes in you always have the potential for a delay,” he told Hawaii News Now, “but I think what we’ll be doing is continue doing whatever we can to keep the project moving”.
Does keeping the project “moving” mean breaking more ground, cutting trees, clearing land, disrupting historic sites and commencing construction all in the name of a rail that may be found to have been granted approval unlawfully and has yet to receive all of the necessary funding?
Residents are not the only ones to question the high cost, controversial project. Folks all the way in Edinburgh, Scotland are urging Hawaii to learn from their terrible tram mistake, their rail project that is already over budget and behind schedule, with 72% of construction to be completed and only 38% of the budget remaining. At this rate, there is a good chance that only a portion of the intended tramlines will be built. According to an Edinburgh article, officials are so desperate to recoup some of the money spent on the expensive and still incomplete project, they are actually considering selling some of the tram cars.
Due to the current lawsuit and lack of guaranteed federal funding, our own rail could quite possibly face much the same sad fate as the Edinburgh tram. With a $1.3 billion deficit and already astronomical taxes, a multi-billion dollar project is more than a risk for Hawaii. Considering the limited areas that will be served and add in the environmental and cultural costs, and it’s simply irresponsible.