2016 | News

Chevy Chase Residents File Opening Brief in Bid to Stop Purple Line

Group that sued federal, state governments says officials didn't comply with environmental law while evaluating light-rail project

share this

Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail President Ajay Bhatt during a 2014 event

Aaron Kraut

A group of Chevy Chase residents suing the federal and state governments to halt the Purple Line light-rail project filed its opening brief in the case last month and expects an initial hearing before a judge in June.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and residents John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua filed their opening brief in the suit Feb. 19 in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The group first sued the Federal Transit Administration and other federal agencies involved in the environmental review of the proposed Purple Line in August 2014. At the time, the suit focused on amphipods, small shrimp-like creatures they were searching for in seeps along Rock Creek and Coquelin Run. The group claimed that construction of the Purple Line would destroy the amphipods’ habitat.

In April 2015, after a team of researchers funded in part by the Town of Chevy Chase didn’t find evidence of the amphipods, the group amended and broadened its lawsuit, claiming state transit officials mischaracterized the Purple Line’s potential storm-water runoff impact and refused to provide proprietary software for ridership estimates.

In July 2015, the group said cost-cutting changes made to the project by Gov. Larry Hogan meant that a supplemental environmental impact statement should be conducted before the project proceeds.

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is expected to announce soon a team of private contractors to help design, build and operate the light-rail, which will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton through parts of Chevy Chase along the path of the Capital Crescent Trail.

Construction on the project is expected to begin either late this year or early next year, according to county officials briefed on the project’s progress. Construction is expected to take five years.

The group of Chevy Chase residents expects the Federal Transit Administration and MTA to file a brief in response. The two sides will then each file one more brief before a hearing, which the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail said it expects to happen in June, before a federal judge in D.C.

In the opening brief, the group of Chevy Chase residents again claimed officials failed to comply with storm-water runoff laws.

The group also said officials failed to comply with federal transportation law “that in essence” requires them to show the proposed light-rail offers the best cost-benefit ratio in terms of traffic congestion relief and that “the state and county governments can provide sufficient funding to build and operate the proposed project while repairing and maintaining our area’s Metro rail.”

The 67-page brief includes a number of other complaints, including that the federal government violated environmental law by presenting “misleading and incorrect descriptions” of the project’s impacts on the environment and the viability of alternative routes considered in earlier planning stages.

The Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail said on its website that at the expected June hearing, “The judge may dismiss our claims or require that the project be reconsidered and/or specify steps to bring the project into compliance.”