Judge deals MD Purple Line another setback with order for additional review
- A federal judge on Monday ruled that Maryland and Federal Transportation Administration officials must provide a new supplementary environmental review for the $5.6 billion, 16-mile Purple Line light-rail system in the Washington, DC, suburbs of Bethesda and Silver Spring, MD, putting the entire project in jeopardy, according to The Washington Post.
- U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon called the FTA response to his request to reconsider how declining Metro ridership would affect the Purple Line "arbitrary and capricious." The FTA reported to Leon in December that Metro ridership would not impact the 16-mile, suburban Purple Line.
- Maryland officials have previously said that if the lawsuit looks like it's not able to be resolved by June 1, they would stop work on the rail because of limited state funding. Sixty days after that action, the state would have to scuttle the entire project and eat about $800 million in unreimbursed costs and cancellation fees.
The decision drew the ire of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan who said it would damage the project and cost Maryland taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Earlier this month, Hogan asked the Maryland attorney general to file a writ of mandamus in an attempt to force Leon to issue a ruling on the FTA's response to the ridership issue.
Leon's decision also reduces the chance that the project will receive an expected $900 million grant from the FTA. President Donald Trump, in his 2018 budget proposal, recommended that the FTA not fund projects that hadn't already secured full funding. That would include the Purple Line.
In addition, the judge's decision puts Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) under pressure to make a decision about whether to stick with the project. The private group arranged financing for the light-rail line and has a 30-year maintenance and operations contract once construction is complete. Earlier this month, the consortium said it was still committed to the project.
The group made public-private partnership (P3) history last year when it secured financing for the Purple Line, one of the largest P3s in the country. PLTP plans to contribute $1 billion, while the state's share is $3.3 billion.
The lawsuit, which could see the end of the Purple Line, was originally filed by activists who don't want to see a park area deforested and paved over to make way for the new rail. They also said investing in other transportation options would be better than building the light-rail line.
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