Halekauwila Street may become a bus-only route between South Street and Keawe Street.

The city’s latest plans for the Honolulu rail line would sacrifice more trees than originally planned in the downtown area and convert a segment of Halekauwila Street into a bus-only traffic corridor, according to a recent city filing.

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation planned for years to cut seven trees along Halekauwila Street to make way for rail, but recent design changes for the project now call for removal of an additional nine trees along Halekauwila from Richards Street past Punchbowl Street to Cooke Street.

Removal of old shade trees along Dillingham Boulevard to clear the way for rail caused a stir this summer, and the loss of the downtown trees will be equally visible, if not more.

The additional trees lost to the project on Halekauwila would be five monkeypods as well as a loulu palm, a false olive, a Manila palm and a kou, according to a HART document entitled “Environmental Re-evaluation for Project Modifications.”

Trees along Halekauwila Street looking toward Diamond Head or east beyond Punchbowl Street. The city has been planning for years to take out seven of the trees along the Halekauwila corridor to make room for the rail line, and now says it needs to remove another nine. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

That reevaluation report was filed with the Federal Transit Administration in August to comply with federal environmental review requirements for a package of design and other changes planned for the rail line.

A number of the changes are aimed at cutting costs, and include deferring a 1,600-stall Pearl Highlands parking garage and shortening the rail line to end it near the intersection of Halekauwila and South Streets. Until last year the plan was to continue the line to Ala Moana Center.

Rail service began in June on nearly 11 miles of the 19-mile project, from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium. But the city still needs to hire a contractor to build the last three miles of elevated guideway and six rail stations from Middle Street to the Civic Center station just beyond South Street.

One of the most significant changes from the original design contemplated in the 2010 environmental impact statement for rail is the so-called mauka shift.

That shift will move the support piers that had been planned for Dillingham Boulevard about 45 feet from their original path along the center of Dillingham to the mauka edge of the right of way. The guideway itself, which rests on the piers, will protrude out over the adjoining property, according to the report.

That mauka shift will allow the rail authority to avoid moving some major utility lines out of the way, including a 42-inch water line. HART officials expect it will shorten the construction schedule by more than six months and save $166 million.

It also required the removal of three additional kamani tress, for a total of 31. Cutting those trees along Dillingham has proved to be unpopular.

The design change along Halekauwila is likewise being pursued to eliminate the need to relocate utilities in the path of the project, which is also expected to save money.

The 2010 environmental impact statement assumed single-column center piers would be installed along Halekauwila Street to support the elevated rail line. But that would have required relocating Hawaiian Electric’s 46 kV electrical line along Halekauwila, according to the report to FTA.

Instead, HART now plans to substitute larger, heavier two-column concrete structures called “straddle bents” that will be built above Halekauwila in place of 10 single columns, according to the FTA report.

“By shifting to bents that straddle the roadway, this Project Modification would reduce a substantial amount of utility relocation work, reduce disruptions to traffic, minimize impacts to human remains and cultural artifacts, reduce construction schedule, and reduce construction costs,” according to the report.

But it also requires removal of more trees along Halekauwila. The report does not specify exactly which trees must go, but says trees will be removed along Halekauwila on both the Ewa and Diamond Head side of Punchbowl.

The total number of trees removed on that shaded stretch would be 16. The report acknowledges that loss, but adds that “while the monkeypod trees create a shaded streetscape, they are common street tree in Honolulu.”

Meanwhile, the city’s decision to end the rail line at the “Civic Center” station on Halekauwila near South Street is expected to divert a good deal of bus and pedestrian traffic into the area, according to the filing with the Federal Transit Administration.

The city plans to ban regular traffic on Halekauwila from South Street to Keawe Street, and reserve that stretch for buses to simplify bus-to-rail transfers and vice versa.

More than 500 people may walk to or from the station during peak commuter hours, and up to 30 new buses per hour would be providing service along that segment of Halekauwila, according to the report.

Read HART’s Environmental Re-evaluation for Project Modifications below:

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