Nossaman Achieves Decision of National Importance Allowing for Completion of $5 Billion Honolulu Rail Transit Project


LOS ANGELES, Calif. (February 19, 2014) – In a case that will facilitate timely completion of transportation projects across the nation, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week rejected federal environmental law challenges to the 20-mile Honolulu Rail Transit Project. On the same day, the District Court for the District of Hawaii dissolved a temporary injunction on construction, removing the last remaining legal barrier to the completion of the project. Nossaman was lead counsel to the City and County of Honolulu – the sponsor of the project.

When completed, the project will connect West Oahu with downtown Honolulu. The project will serve major commercial and tourist destinations, including Pearl Harbor, the Airport and the Ala Moana Center.

The Ninth Circuit decision will facilitate federally-funded transportation projects across the nation. The decision emphasizes the important linkage between transportation objectives identified in regional transportation plans and the analysis of alternatives to transportation projects. "We are proud of the role that we played in assisting the City in the successful defense of this important project," said Nossaman partner Robert Thornton. "Not only does the Ninth Circuit decision remove the legal barriers to the completion of the rail transit, it will help streamline the federal environmental process for projects throughout the nation. The great result is testimony to the careful, objective and thorough analysis of the project by the City and the Federal Transit Administration." The decision recognizes that federal transportation agencies may define a project's purpose and need, and the range of alternatives based on the objectives described in an approved regional transportation plan. The court also concluded that federal agencies may narrow the range of alternatives to a project based on state studies of project alternatives.

The lengthy and complex federal environmental process is often made even more difficult by demands by project opponents that federal agencies evaluate alternatives that were considered, but rejected, in the regional transportation plan or prior state environmental studies. The case is the first decision by a federal court of appeals that recognizes that Congress linked the environmental analysis of individual projects to the objectives established by the federally-mandated transportation planning process.

The decision, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on February 18, 2014, is v. Federal Transit Administration, 9th Cir. No. 13-15277.

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