Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is seeking a court order to force the judge in the long-running Purple Line case to issue a ruling.
Frosh filed the writ of mandamus in the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals on Friday and noted that further delay in the case could lead to the cancelation of the 16-mile light-rail project and cost the state about $800 million.
“By June 1, 2017, without the relief sought from this court, budgetary requirements will force the state to begin suspension of work on a multi-billion dollar project,” the filing says. “The suspension will in turn result in significant increases in the cost of the project and eventually could lead to the cancellation of the project, which would deprive the state of a vitally needed transportation facility and cause the irretrievable loss of over $800 million.”
Federal District Judge Richard Leon vacated the project’s federal approval in August over concerns about Metro’s recent ridership decline and safety issues. That ruling delayed the start of construction on the Purple Line, which was set to begin late last year, and has prevented the state from securing $900 million in federal funds to help pay for construction.
Frosh’s filing comes after Gov. Larry Hogan directed him last week to seek the rarely granted remedy because Leon has failed to amend his ruling in the five months since receiving information from the state and federal government that stated Metro’s problems wouldn’t significantly affect the Purple Line.
The filing notes that summary judgments in the case have been pending and fully briefed since June 2016. Despite this, the judge has only ruled on the Metro issue out of the 24 issues brought by the plaintiffs in the case, which is being pursued by two Town of Chevy Chase residents and the trail advocacy group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.
The state is asking the higher court to order the district court to rule on the issues before it—so the state can either appeal or move forward with the project.
The filing notes the judge is creating a situation where he could decide the fate of the Purple Line by “pocket veto rather than on the merits.”
Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn wrote in an attachment to the court filing that the state has been advancing money for Purple Line design in lieu of the federal dollars it had planned to use to fund construction.
“[Maryland Department of Transportation] is rapidly approaching the point at which it cannot continue to advance these funds,” Rahn noted.
Rahn added the fiscal 2017 federal budget includes $125 million for the Purple Line that the state cannot access unless the judge reinstates the federal approval for the project. After June 1, he said the state will not have enough money to continue funding preconstruction activities. Meanwhile, delays would cost the state about $13 million per month, according to Rahn.
If the project is cancelled or delayed for an extended period, the state stands to lose its total investment so far of $545 million and another $200 million it would have to pay under its termination agreement with Purple Line Transit Partners, the private team of finance and construction companies that partnered with the state to finance, build and operate the Purple Line under a $5.6 billion, 36-year contract.