The state of Maryland is asking the judge in the Purple Line case to stay a judgment and order that have blocked federal funding and stalled progress on the light-rail project.
The motion filed late last week asks U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to decide by Friday on the state’s request. Issuing the stay would enable the project to move forward while the Court of Appeals considers the case, the state contended, while further delay would be a setback for Maryland travelers and the economy.
“The public stands to lose the broad benefits of the Project, including reliable and rapid east-west travel, support for community revitalization and transit-oriented development, and connecting thousands of people to jobs,” stated a memorandum filed with the motion.
Specifically, the state requested Leon to stay his May 22 ruling that required further examination of projected ridership on the proposed light-rail line and his August order vacating federal approval of the project.
Faced with delays caused by Leon’s ruling and order, state officials moved May 31 to suspend “key elements” of pre-construction work on the Purple Line as the state faced mounting costs and an unclear timeline to contest Leon’s May 22 order.
State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn ordered the state’s contractor on the project—Purple Line Transit Partners—to suspend the execution of new construction contracts and procurements for non-essential materials and equipment, and to freeze hiring of construction staff, according to a Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) press release.
Rahn also asked the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to freeze hiring of oversight staff for the project and suspend state funding for county design reviews. And he directed Purple Line officials to limit further costs on the project except for “those of agreed necessity.”
The move to suspend pre-construction activities came after Leon dismissed outstanding issues in the long-running Purple Line case that have delayed construction of the light-rail line, which was scheduled to start late last year. In his May 22 order, Leon ordered the Federal Transit Administration to reexamine the project’s ridership forecasts after finding that Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues could impact the project.
Leon’s May 22 ruling and his August decision to revoke federal approval of the project have prevented the state from securing the $900 million in federal funds that state officials say is needed for construction to proceed on the light-rail line that is planned to connect Bethesda with New Carrollton along an east-west route.
Rahn previously said in court filings the state would have had to suspend Purple Line work on June 1 as state funds for the project were dwindling. He said in the release that Leon’s ruling provided a path for the state to appeal the court order. Rahn noted Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General immediately filed a notice of appeal to challenge Leon’s order, but the timeline of the appeal process was uncertain.
Previously, Maryland officials said that paying the private contractor to conduct pre-construction work was costing the state about $13 million per month under its 36-year, $5.6 billion contract with Purple Line Transit Partners. About 200 employees of Purple Line Transit Partners have been working at an office in Riverdale and another 500 have been working on the project elsewhere, according to the team of construction and finance companies.