HONOLULU (AP) - Honolulu is prohibited from buying land or proceeding with construction on the city center section of a planned rail line until more studies on the project are finished, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The city may continue work on the western end of the rail line in the meantime, according to the decision issued by 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Wallace Tashima. Honolulu may also conduct engineering and design work on the city center portion.
Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle welcomed the ruling, saying it will allow construction to resume once the city finishes archaeological surveys in accordance with a state Supreme Court ruling.
"This ruling is very reasonable, and is essentially what the city asked for," Carlisle said in a statement.
He said the city will be able to address issues raised by the judge "in a timely manner without undue burden."
Dan Grabauskas, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO, said Oahu residents "can look forward to seeing their rail system fully operational in 2019 as planned."
Tashima last month identified multiple shortcomings in the environmental impact statement prepared for the 20-mile rail line connecting Honolulu's western suburbs with the city center.
Honolulu failed to adequately consider building a Beretania Street tunnel as part of an alternative route for the rail line, the judge said.
The city didn't identify above-ground traditional cultural properties before deciding where to build the line and didn't properly evaluate whether the rail project would constructively use a Kakaako park, Mother Waldron Park, the judge said.
The city is also working to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling that sided with a Native Hawaiian woman suing to protect ancient Hawaiian burial sites along the route. The state court ruled the city should have completed a full archaeological survey on the entire project - instead of in phases - before starting construction.
The city suspended all new rail construction work in August in response to that ruling and said it wouldn't resume construction until the archaeological work is finished.
Earlier this month, the Federal Transit Administration agreed to provide Honolulu with $1.5 billion to build the rail line. The federal government will cover about one-third of the rail line's $5.5 billion cost. Oahu taxpayers are paying for the rest with a 0.5 percentage point surcharge on the general excise tax paid on Oahu.