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Appeals Court On Board for New Underground Rail in L.A.

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 12, 2016 2:55 PM

A new underground light-rail will move on down the track near Little Tokyo in Los Angeles, following a federal appeals court decision.

The Ninth Circuit upheld a district court decision turning down complaints that the proposed Metro rail system would disrupt business and harm the environment. The justices unanimously ruled that local and federal agencies had complied with environmental standards in reviewing the plan, including the choice to dig and then cover the tunnel that had been temporarily enjoined by the trial judge.

"Compared to the cut and cover method, tunnel boring is far less disruptive to surface traffic and adjacent land uses," the appeals court said in the case brought by Japanese Village Plaza and Westin Bonaventure Hotel. However, the court ruled the agencies were not "arbitrary and capricious in rejecting the tunnel boring method."

The Hardest Cut

Among other issues in the 54-page decision, the court reviewed the potential construction methods for the proposed tunnel. Cut-and-cover construction involves excavating down from the ground surface and using temporary supports to stabilize the ground.

Concrete decking is placed over the "cut" to allow traffic to pass over during construction. Once tunneling is done, the excavated trench is back-filled and the temporary decking is replaced by permanent surface.

A tunnel-boring machine, an alternate method, is a large-diameter horizontal drill that is used to excavate circular tunnel sections. It is "far less disruptive," the court said, but a more expensive method for making tunnels.

Under different circumstances, the court said, the tunnel boring machine may have been necessary. But the agencies did not break the law in choosing cut-and-cover for practical reasons.

Little Tokyo, Big Complaints

Japanese Village Plaza has sued more than once to block the proposed rail system, which will connect the Blue Line, Gold Line and Expo lines through downtown Los Angeles. The plan also includes three new underground stations.

In 2013, Japanese Village first sued federal and city officials to stop construction of the 1.9-mile line. The Westin Bonaventure Hotel filed a similar complaint against the same agencies, and the federal court consolidated them.

In July 2016, the Plaza filed another complaint and a request for temporary restraining order in state court alleging two construction companies planned to inject concrete into the ground that would encroach on property owned by the shopping mall without proper permits. A judge denied the request for a TRO.

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