More speed bumps for Honolulu rail project

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu's mass transit project must overcome serious obstacles before groundbreaking.

That's according to state officials who say Monday's release of the environmental impact study does not put the project on the fast track.

The governor's signature isn't the only thing needed to move forward.

Even if she signed off today, the City must clear several more hurdles before starting construction.

The final environmental impact statement (EIS) is now online for the public to view.

But rail planners still have unfinished business.

First -

"Nobody has signed the Programmatic Agreement (PA) at this point - none of the federal agencies, nor us," said Laura Thielen, Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair.

Without that agreement, Thielen says construction can't start.

The holdup centers on Oahu's historic districts and sacred cultural grounds.

The final EIS shows 81 of those sites will be impacted by rail, 33 of them will be affected severely.

Four agencies need to sign on to the PA, which outlines ways to minimize the impact on those sites.

The city says so far, three of them are on board: the Federal Transit Authority (FTS), the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Honolulu's Department of Transportation Services.

"No, that's not true. The FTA has confirmed that the consultation has not been completed and the city statement was premature," said Thielen.

The City says the three haven't technically signed, but have agreed to.

The fourth party that has yet to agree on the PA is the State Historic Preservation Officer, which is Thielen.

Here's another potential speed bump:

The federal government must now publish the final EIS to give federal leaders a 30-day comment period.

Any new concerns must by resolved before the project can move forward.

Then there's money.

The Governor plans to review the financial plan before signing off.

But the city's transportation chief is already hinting at another battle around the bend.

"It's not a requirement. She certainly doesn't need it. And to say that we should meet our final design, financial plan, would be ridiculous because we won't go into the real detailed engineering until we get the {record of decision}, which we're going after right now," said Wayne Yoshioka, Honolulu Transportation Director.

The city expects the federal 30-day-comment period to begin on June 25th.

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