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9th Circuit Upholds Environmental Analysis for Critical Southern California Transit Project

The United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit rejected appeals by two property owners challenging the environmental impact analysis for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) Regional Connector underground light rail project. (Japanese Village, LLC v. Federal Transit Administration, et al. (December 6, 2016).) The appellate court’s decision reflects significant deference to the regional transportation agency’s expertise in evaluation of construction methods and selection of mitigation measures.

The Regional Connector project is a 1.9-mile subway project that will allow passengers to transfer between MTA’s Gold Line and four other light rail lines, improving transit access to both downtown and regional destinations. The Ninth Circuit’s decision resolves National Environmental Policy Act claims filed by a Financial District hotel and a Little Tokyo shopping center and office complex. The trial court rejected the opponents’ claims that the January 2012 final environmental impact statement (FEIS) failed to adequately analyze and mitigate construction-related noise and vibration impacts, or to consider alternative methods of tunneling. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling on all challenges to the FEIS. In addition, the appellate court upheld MTA’s decision to adopt additional mitigation measures after the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

The Court’s decision continues a string of litigation successes for this critical rail transit project in downtown Los Angeles. In October 2015, a state court challenge to the project’s environmental impact report was rejected by the California Court of Appeal. The project is currently under construction, and anticipated to begin operation in 2021.