Updated – 3 p.m. – Dirt will soon begin to fly on the Purple Line construction project.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s office notified Montgomery County late Wednesday night that it has scheduled a groundbreaking at 10 a.m. Monday in the Hyattsville area in Prince George’s County.
The notice provided to County Council members says the event will take place near the Md. 450 and Md. 410 interchange, which is near the New Carrollton Metro station.
Around 3 p.m. Thursday, Hogan's office distributed a media advisory confirming the event will take place at 10 a.m. Monday at the Purple Line Operations Center at 4800 Veterans Parkway in Hyattsville. Hogan will participate in the ceremony with U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, according to the release.
Screenshot of the media advisory about the groundbreaking distributed Thursday afternoon by Gov. Larry Hogan's office.
“I’m very pleased,” Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said Thursday morning. “This is a big day for our county, for our region and for our state. So many people have worked for decades to get us to this point in time.”
Berliner thanked Hogan for his work in helping to move the project forward.
“He came around to appreciate how important this project is for our region and he supported us,” Berliner said. “I tip my hat to him. It’s a boon to our economy, our quality of life and our environment.”
Hogan’s office announced Monday that the state was close to signing a full funding grant agreement with the federal government to access the $900 million in federal funds proposed to be used on the project’s approximately $2 billion construction cost. Chao's presence at the event and its billing as a ceremonial "signing" seem to indicate the grant agreement will be finalized Monday.
A lawsuit that has delayed construction on the project for more than nine months is currently being weighed by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. That court already reinstated the project’s federal approval and set an expedited schedule to rule on a previous judge’s order that the project needs additional environmental analysis.
The scheduled groundbreaking and the funding agreement being signed are evidence of which way the court may be leaning, according to Berliner, a former regulatory attorney.
“I think the lawsuit is over,” Berliner said. “The Court of Appeals has made it clear that the federal judge was way out of bounds.”
The groundbreaking could mark a possible end to decades of debate over the project, which has faced extended opposition from residents in Chevy Chase and elsewhere over concerns it won’t significantly ease congestion and could harm the environment, as well as a popular hiking and biking trail.
Montgomery County has pledged to fund the construction of a new trail along the Purple Line route.
The Purple Line would connect Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County along a 16.2-mile route east to west route. It will be built under a 36-year, $5.6 billion contract the state signed last year with a private team of construction and finance companies known as Purple Line Transit Partners.
Greg Sanders, the vice president of the transit advocacy group Purple Line Now, said Thursday he was hesitant to get too excited about the news, after having the "football yanked away" so many times in the past. Nonetheless, the group is "estatic," he said.
"Until we get the final signing [of the grant agreement], we're still holding our breath," Sanders said. "But obviously the administration knows about the timing. We think it's a great sign, that, yeah, we're ready to move forward."
County Council member Hans Riemer noted the project has been debated for decades and he's excited for it to move toward construction. He said when he first ran for the council in 2006, he sent a mailer to residents that he would help get the Purple Line built or "die trying." He may be able to deliver on his campaign commitment, but still has some concerns.
"I still say, 'I won't believe it until I ride it,'" Riemer said. "You never know what's going to happen. Projects like this are often dealt major setbacks all the way up until the point of opening."