- A federal judge has confirmed his August ruling requiring federal transportation officials to reconsider the impact of the Washington Metro system's ridership and safety issues before Maryland's $5.6 billion Purple Line can begin construction, according to The Washington Post.
- U.S. District Court for DC Judge Richard Leon said that neither Federal Transit Administration nor Maryland officials factored in declining Metrorail ridership or recent safety concerns into their analysis of the Purple Line, even though more than 25% of the light rail's riders would come from the Metrorail.
- In a minor break for the Purple Line, Leon reversed the portion of his decision that would have required an update to the first environmental review. Instead, he ordered the FTA to take another look at the first review, reconsider whether the Metro's ridership would affect the Purple Line and decide whether a new review is needed.
If the FTA determines that a new or updated environmental review for the 16.2-mile Purple Line is necessary, it could add up to six months to a project for which the schedule is crucial. Before Leon made his July decision, project officials warned that the time it would take for such a review could endanger the entire project, as the delicate contractual underpinnings of the public-private partnership were extremely time sensitive.
The complex financial backing includes a now-on-hold $900 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, $313 million in low-interest "green bonds," $3.3 billion from Maryland and $1 billion from the team in charge of design, construction, operation and maintenance — the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP). In addition, the Fluor-led PLTP stands to earn almost $150 million a year in maintenance fees. However, in his decision, Leon said that letting the project move forward without a proper study — even if that means construction delays – would also be "disruptive."
Ajay Bhatt of Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, one of the plaintiffs in the case against the project, told Construction Dive last month that his group is very pro-transit but believes that state and federal officials overlooked more appropriate uses for billions in transportation dollars, such as increased bus service or even repairs to the Metrorail. If the organization's ridership figures bear out, Bhatt said taxpayer money could go toward something that may end up serving few riders. However, proponents of the rail, like the advocacy group Purple Line NOW, have said that NIMBYism is at the root of opposition.
If it moves forward, the Purple Line will provide connections between locations in suburban Prince George's and Montgomery counties, as well as offer increased access for riders to the DC Metrorail system.