Ninth Circuit OKs Downtown LA Subway Extension

metro-reg-connectorLOS ANGELES (CN) – The Ninth Circuit on Tuesday rejected environmental challenges by a shopping center and hotel to a new underground light-rail line in downtown Los Angeles.

In a 54-page opinion, the panel affirmed U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt’s ruling that Metro, Federal Transit Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s environmental reviews of the project were sufficient.

The new rail line will connect the Blue Line, Gold Line and Expo line and includes three new underground stations.

In early 2013, Japanese Village – a shopping plaza in L.A.’s Little Tokyo neighborhood – sued federal and city officials in a bid to stop construction of the 1.9-mile line. The Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites filed a similar complaint against the same agencies, claiming the project will disrupt its business.

The Japanese Village said the Federal Transit Administration failed to consider an aboveground alternative when it approved the project or look at ways to reduce the environmental impact on Little Tokyo Historic District’s residents and businesses.

Tunneling beneath the plaza would cause subsistence, and the noise from construction would lead to congestion and lack of parking, the shopping center claimed.

But the Ninth Circuit disagreed. In an opinion issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte – sitting by designation from the Northern District of California – said city and federal officials had done enough under National Environmental Policy Act to mitigate against the environmental impacts.

“Appellees also went beyond NEPA’s procedural requirements and committed to implementing the mitigation measures that Japanese Village requested,” Whyte wrote, adding that the agencies’ plans to mitigate subsistence were “not arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise in violation of the law.”

Whyte said that the agencies’ review of off-street parking was “sufficient to pass muster under NEPA.”

The court rejected the Westin Bonaventure’s challenge to the project, finding that a method of tunneling using a closed-face boring machine was not a feasible alternative. The hotel had said the machine would have been less disruptive and made it easier for guests and visitors to access the hotel.

LA Metro’s plans for nighttime construction did not require a supplemental environmental impact statement, the court added. The hotel was concerned about the noise and light impacts of construction at night.

Circuit Judges Stephen Reinhardt and Kim McLane Wardlaw joined Whyte’s opinion.

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