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Judge blasts city for ending rail route at Ala Moana, not UH

By Marcel Honoré

LAST UPDATED: 1:05 p.m. HST, Jul 11, 2013

A federal judge wrote a scathing letter this week criticizing the direction of Honolulu’s rail project and saying rail officials have failed to follow a federal court order.

Chief U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway contends that the route transit officials chose, ending at Ala Moana Center, fails to meet the project’s original expressed purpose because it doesn’t serve the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus, and the thousands of students, professors and employees who gather there.

“The project doesn’t go anywhere near the UH Manoa campus. Instead, it goes to the Ala Moana Shopping Center!” Mollway wrote in a July 8 letter to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Director Dan Grabauskas and Ted Matley, a Federal Transit Administration official. 

Mollway’s letter responds to a conclusion from HART and the FTA last month that tunneling under Beretania Street would be "feasible" but still too costly an alternative compared with running an elevated track further makai, along Halekauwila Street.  

The conclusion came under court order in an ongoing federal lawsuit by rail opponents trying to stop the project.

However, Mollway urges rail officials to “recognize that the Beretania Tunnel Alternative” is actually the more feasible approach and that they haven’t adequately considered it.

The rail officials’ draft supplemental environmental impact statement on the matter last month contended that it would cost nearly $1 billion more and add two years of construction to tunnel under Beretania to UH Manoa.  Nonetheless, Mollway argues that might still be the best approach if the rail system is ever going to make it to the university campus.

“There could be a major cost-saving in implementing the Beretania Tunnel Alternative now rather than pursuing a two-stage development initial construction of the rail route to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and later extension to UH Manoa,” she writes.

“In fact, given the economy, sequestration, the loss of Senator (Daniel) Inouyes’ influence, and other intervening factors, it is realistic to question whether the extension to UH Manoa will ever be built.”

Mollway, along with other judges in the U.S. District Court of Hawaii, recused themselves from presiding over the federal environmental lawsuit. The case was subsequently assigned to Judge A. Wallace Tashima in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The 2011 recusal order noted that the Hawaii court "could be construed as having an interest in the outcome of litigation."

Most of the judges wrote a letter in 2008 opposing the rail route's proximity to the courthouse, saying that it posed a security risk. The letter was addressed to the Federal Transit Administration.

In addition to Mollway, judges at the time who signed the letter were Helen Gillmor, Michael Seabright, Samuel King, Alan Kay, Barry Kurren, Leslie Kobayashi and Kevin Chang. Judge David Ezra recused himself from signing the letter.

Judge Susan Oki Mollway's letter to HART and federal transit officials

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