With the Purple Line project in peril as costs mount due to ongoing delays, attorneys for Maryland are trying to speed up the appeals process in federal court.
On Monday, attorneys representing the state requested the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to expedite the briefing schedule for the state’s appeal of a U.S. district judge’s order that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) conduct a new environmental study for the light-rail project.
D.C. District Court Judge Richard Leon vacated the project’s federal approval and ordered the study after siding with the plaintiffs in the case—two Town of Chevy Chase residents and the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail group—that Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues could impact ridership on the Purple Line. Leon also found that Maryland and the FTA failed to properly study how Metro’s issues would affect 16.2-mile light-rail line expected to run between Bethesda and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. The state has signed a contract with a private partner to build and run the line, but construction has been delayed by Leon’s rulings in the lawsuit.
In their latest court filing, the state’s attorneys contend that Leon erred in his ruling by substituting his judgment for that found in the FTA analysis and that his decision could lead to cancellation of the project. The FTA study of Metro’s issues found that even with no riders transferring from Metro, the Purple Line would still achieve its goal of creating an improved transit system between job centers and residential communities in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“With each passing day, the continued delay costs the state millions of dollars and places the project in greater jeopardy,” the filing states. “Prompt consideration of this matter is needed to avoid the continuing and irreparable harm to the state and its residents.”
The attorneys representing Maryland have requested a briefing schedule that would begin July 20 and end Aug. 24—after which the appeals Court judges would consider the merits, possibly schedule oral arguments and issue a ruling.
What is clear with the latest filing is that the case is not likely to be resolved for at least another two months—and it could be much longer if the Court of Appeals doesn’t approve the expedited schedule request. The state has been unable to access any of the $900 million in federal funds proposed for the project because of Leon’s order vacating the project’s federal approval.
With no end in sight for the lawsuit and state funds for the project dwindling, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn suspended key pre-construction activities on the Purple Line at the end of May. The state has also requested a stay in the appeals court, which if granted would allow it to access federal funds allocated for the project.
Monday’s filing notes the state would lose the $545 million it already spent on the project, $150 million related to costs resulting from delays and up to $200 million in termination costs if it has to end the $5.6 billion, 36-year contract it signed with Purple Line Transit Partners last year to build and operate the line.