HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Just ten days after taking office Governor Neil Abercrombie has given the city's rail project the state's blessing.
Thursday Abercrombie signed the final Environmental Impact Statement on Honolulu's 20-mile rail line that will run from Kapolei through downtown Honolulu to Ala Moana.
Abercrombie concluded that economic, social and environmental risks have been properly addressed under law.
In a letter to Wayne Yoshioka, city Director of Transportation Services, Abercrombie said, "I find that the mitigation measures proposed in the environmental impact statement will minimize the negative impacts of the project."
By approving the EIS Abercrombie put the rail project back on track.
Former Governor Linda Lingle said she would not approve the EIS until an independent financial review, paid for by the state, was complete. On December 3, three days before Abercrombie replaced Lingle as governor, she announced the review's findings. It estimates rail will cost at least $1.7 billion more than the city's estimated $5.5 billion price tag.
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle is not deterred by the state's cost projection.
"I am pleased and enthusiastic to announce I have a copy of the final environmental impact statement for the Honolulu rail transit project signed by governor Neil Abercrombie clearing the way for the project to move forward," Carlisle said during a hastily called press conference early Thursday night.
The Federal Transit Administration needs to issue something called a Record of Decision, and the Honolulu City Council needs to grant a shoreline management permit before work on the project can begin.
Carlisle said both things can happen before February and he hopes work on the project can begin early next year.
"There's a long way to go from here to putting a shovel in the ground," said Cliff Slater, head of honolulutraffic.com, a citizens group that promotes alternatives to rail. Slater maintains rail is still in jeopardy.
"The EIS is the first part of the thing. There are all kinds of things that it has to go through yet before we get to the point where the FTA is going to commit," Slater added.
Slater said money is the biggest obstacle. The city is expecting $1.5 billion from the federal government, but Slater said that money is no guarantee now that cost-cutting republicans control congress.
Hawaii's construction industry is eager for the work to begin.
"I would like to take the time, the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council and many of its affiliates in attendance this evening would like to reassure the mayor and the people of the city and county of Honolulu that we will deliver a quality project on time and under budget," said Buzzy Hong, of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council.