Updated – 12:30 p.m. – President Donald Trump’s proposed budget could prevent the Purple Line from receiving the $900 million in federal funds that state officials have long planned to spend on the project.
Trump’s budget outline released Thursday includes a line that states only transit projects “with existing full funding grant agreements in place” will receive federal funds under the Federal Transit Administration’s “New Starts” program.
About $900 million from that program had been requested for the Purple Line, but the full funding grant agreement has not been signed due to an ongoing lawsuit. The agreement was scheduled to be signed Aug. 4, but was delayed indefinitely after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon revoked the project’s federal approval the day before.
"We won't know if there's an impact to the Purple Line until a final budget is passed by Congress and the appropriations process is complete," Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, said in an email Thursday.
Leon cited Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues in his decision. The lawsuit brought by two Chevy Chase residents and a trail advocacy group includes a number of questions about the environmental effects and projected ridership of the 16.2-mile proposed light-rail line that would connect Bethesda with Prince George’s County along an east-west route.
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said Thursday a literal reading of Trump’s budget outline would indicate federal funds for the project could be eliminated.
“It’s fair to say that they’re certainly at risk at this moment in time,” Berliner said.
He added that he’s already reached out to Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s office for support. Berliner noted that Van Hollen’s office has informed him that Congress will likely pass a more bipartisan budget, that's different from what Trump is proposing.
Berliner also contacted Gov. Larry Hogan’s office, “to make sure they weigh in and we continue to have a united front fighting for this terribly important project.”
Hogan signed off on a 36-year, $5.6 billion agreement with Purple Line Transit Partners last spring that tasked the private team of construction and finance companies to design and build the Purple Line.
Construction was scheduled to begin on the project this winter, but also has been delayed due to the lawsuit. The federal government already appropriated $203 million toward the Purple Line in previous years, with future appropriations planned in later years.
The proposal in Trump’s budget outline on transit projects appears to be counter to his campaign promise to invest $1 trillion into infrastructure improvements in the United States.
The Purple Line was listed among 50 infrastructure projects reportedly prioritized by Trump’s transition team.
However, Trump’s budget outline says, “Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”
A screenshot from Trump's 2018 Budget proposal via Whitehouse.gov. Highlighting by Bethesda Beat.