Judge’s ruling is a major setback for the Purple Line

Once upon a time, we headlined a story “The Purple Line Is Really Happening,” after Republican Governor Larry Hogan gave it a surprise green light and the Maryland Department of Transportation selected a firm to build and operate the 16.2-mile light rail line. Construction was slated to begin in late 2016.

But we should have known not to count wealthy NIMBY neighbors out.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail filed a lawsuit that already resulted in one major delay, when U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ruled last August that the MTA needed to recalculate its ridership projections in the wake of WMATA’s issues. Now, that same judge ruled today that federal transit officials failed to sufficiently take Metro’s safety and ridership problems into account and has ordered another study.

“After careful consideration of the motions, the applicable law, and the entire record in this case, I find that defendants have failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’ at the potential impact that WMATA’s ridership and safety issues could have on the Purple Line project,” Leon wrote in a 12-page opinion.

While the 16.2-mile, $2.4 billion light rail line isn’t a part of the Metro system, it will have connections to the Red, Green, and Orange lines among its 21 stops (should it ever get built).

Transit advocates argue that the Purple Line is a vital link for the corridor and that the connections to Metro are only a part of its benefit for the region.

“We already know that Metro ridership will make up only a limited percentage of Purple Line ridership,” said Stewart Schwartz, the executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in a statement. “The Purple Line is a badly-needed east-west transit connection for access to jobs and revitalization, and significant ridership will be driven by that demand, as well as the revitalization inside the Beltway that the project will spur.”

On the other side, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail argues that Maryland should be focusing on coming up with its portion of the billions necessary to make badly needed repairs for Metro.

Maryland will pay $160 million in construction costs for the Purple Line, and has sought $900 million in federal transit aid along with contributions from local jurisdictions. Today’s ruling puts already appropriated federal funds in jeopardy, and could conceivably even spell the end for the project. From The Washington Post:

“How much more delay the Purple Line project can withstand is hard to say. Maryland officials can’t secure federal funding until Leon or another judge reinstates the light-rail project’s federal environmental approval, which Leon revoked in August.

State officials have said they need that environmental approval restored by June 1, or they would have to suspend much or all of the rail project’s planning and design work because state money would run out. The state would then have about 60 days before it would have to cancel the project, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said in a court filing.

If the state canceled the Purple Line, Rahn said, it could lose more than $800 million: $545 million already spent on planning and design, more than $200 million in contract termination costs and up to $150 million in delay costs.”

Click here to read the original story.