UPDATE: A federal appeals court judge ruled on Wednesday to allow construction to begin on Maryland's $5.6 billion Purple Line light-rail project, The Washington Post reported. The move, which makes it possible for the state to seek federal funding for the project, comes amid a lawsuit questioning its environmental impact. The ruling reinstates the project's environmental approval, which was taken away by a lower court last year.
In June, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon rejected Maryland's request that he stay the order halting construction on the project, according to The Washington Post.
In his decision, Leon said that the state did not sufficiently demonstrate that it could win an appeal of his ruling and that it did not provide proof of "irreparable harm" if its progress was delayed again.
Maryland officials said the state will lose $800 million if not allowed to restart the project, but Leon said they knew the project was in legal jeopardy when they signed the multibillion-dollar public-private partnership agreement and when they continued to spend money on preconstruction work despite facing legal uncertainty.
The beleaguered Purple Line project has faced pushback from all sides, since two individuals filed a lawsuit that attempted to stop its construction in 2014, to Judge Leon's halt of the project in August, revoking its federal and state approvals just days before the Federal Transit Administration was to deliver a $900 million federal grant. The latest move, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, allows the project to pursue funding, but it is yet to be determined whether the ruling will give the project enough solid ground to stand on to actually get the money it needs, according to The Post.
At the heart of the issue is the Purple Line's projected ridership figures, which are based, in part, on the overall ridership of the DC Metrorail system. That system has seen a decline in the number of commuters using its services, but a lawsuit filed by local advocates argued that the Purple Line did not reflect that adequately in its environmental review.
Leon ordered that Purple Line officials must submit a supplemental environmental review taking the Metro figures into consideration — a time-consuming process that might not be complete until after the August 1 deadline. The latest appeals court judgment puts this ruling on hold while the state appeals it.
The P3 consortium, Purple Line Partners, said it is committed to seeing the project through.
Purple Line Transit Partners closed a deal with state officials for the financing, design-build, operation and maintenance of the Purple Line in June 2016. The state agreed to contribute $3.3 billion, while Purple Line Transit Partners will kick in $1 billion. Maryland has reportedly spent $380 million already on the project, with costs increasing by $13 million for each month there is a delay.
Even with the Purple Line allowed to restart construction, however, crews would not be allowed to perform the necessary deforestation until the end of September in order to comply with laws protecting migratory bird nests.