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City says it has complied with court order on rail studies

By Marcel Honoré

LAST UPDATED: 1:45 a.m. HST, Oct 9, 2013

Honolulu transit officials announced Wednesday that they have fully complied with a federal court order to better study the alternate routes and impacts of the city's planned rail project. 

However, they're still waiting to hear back from a panel of appeals court judges -- and those judges' decision could make or break the $5.26 billion public transit effort.

This morning, rail attorneys filed a "notice of compliance" in federal district court. It says they have completed all of the additional studies that visiting Judge A. Wallace Tashima required in his court decision last year.

Tashima's ruling -- part of a suit looking to stop the rail project -- largely sided with the city. However, it required transit officials to weigh more closely an alternate route that ends at the University of Hawaii instead of the Ala Moana Center, as well as any impacts rail would have on Mother Waldron Park in Kakaako.

The city has wrapped up those studies. They say there would be no impacts to Mother Waldron Park under environmental law, and that it would cost nearly $950 million and take two more years of work to use what's dubbed the "Beretania Tunnel Alternative" -- a route along Beretania and King streets to get to UH Manoa.

"The best alternative is to go the way we're going," Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Dan Grabauskas said.

He and Mayor Kirk Caldwell used a press conference this morning to implore rail opponents to accept the studies.

Honolulutraffic.com, a group opposed to the Honolulu rail plan, have 30 days to object to the city's notice of compliance with Tashima's order. Their 2011 lawsuit argued local and federal officials violated environmental and historical preservation law with a shoddy approvals process.

Cliff Slater, chairman of Honolulutraffic.com, said it's too early to say whether the group would object. Honolulutraffic.com has appealed its case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In August, a three-judge panel from the appeals court held a hearing on the matter in San Francisco. A decision from that appeals court panel could come at any time.

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