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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

FAA approves of Hawaii rail transit route change to protect airspace

Special Report: Rail Transit

By Sean Hao
Advertiser Staff Writer

A plan to shift the route of Honolulu's proposed elevated commuter rail project to avoid Honolulu International Airport airspace has found favor with the Federal Aviation Administration, the city said yesterday.

The city had planned to run the 20-mile, East Kapolei-to-Ala Moana train past the airport along Aolele Street , with a station near Lagoon Drive. However, the five-story station encroached on a runway protection zone that's supposed to be free of construction .

Last month, the city announced plans to shift the train's route from Aolele Street mauka about 300 feet starting about 2,000 feet 'ewa of Lagoon Drive. The alternative of moving a nearby runway was too expensive, the city said.

The FAA notified the city via a letter that it concurred with city plans to move the train's route, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said yesterday.

"This milestone means there are no outstanding issues associated with the rail system serving the Honolulu International Airport or completing the rail transit Final Environmental Impact Statement," Hannemann said in a news release.

The city did not specify when the project's final environmental impact study will be released or when construction will begin.

"We are making significant progress toward breaking ground and beginning rail construction," Hannemann said.

FAA spokesman Ian Gregor yesterday confirmed that the agency accepted the city's request to include the new rail alignment in the master plan for the Honolulu airport. However, the potential impact of rail on that plan and on airport airspace won't be known until the agency completes ongoing studies, he said. Those reviews are being expedited, Gregor said.

Construction of the airport segment of the $5.3 billion project is expected to begin in 2014. The train is to be built in phases, starting with a section from East Kapolei to Waipahu.

Groundbreaking for the train project was supposed to start last December, but was delayed by a prolonged review of environmental impacts and the airport airspace issue.

The city also is awaiting federal approval of an agreement that establishes the framework for lessening the project's impact on cultural and historic resources.

The Federal Transit Administration is the agency that is ultimately expected to release the project's final environmental impact statement, which then would need approval by Gov. Linda Lingle before the project could proceed. Lingle plans to hold public hearings and conduct an independent analysis of the project's finances before deciding whether to approve the project.