The two transit agencies overseeing the Purple Line project on Friday dismissed concerns that Metro’s safety issues and decline in ridership would have a significant negative impact on the ridership of the Purple Line in their latest responses in the ongoing federal lawsuit that has stalled construction on the light-rail project.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) wrote in filings submitted Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., that even if no Metro riders used the Purple Line, the light-rail line would still have about 50,000 weekday riders by 2040, compared to the 69,300 currently projected. Ridership at that level would still be enough to meet the line’s purpose—to create a reliable east-west transit system between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, according to the agencies.
The latest analysis was conducted to satisfy Judge Richard Leon’s November order in the suit brought by two Chevy Chase residents and the trail advocacy group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail. Leon revoked the project’s federal approval in August and in November he asked the FTA and MTA to prepare a report about whether the agencies believe a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which would trigger a new public approval process, is needed because of Metro’s ongoing problems.
“There is no plausible basis for finding that reduced ridership (even if it were to occur) would create a seriously different picture of the environmental impacts of the Purple Line,” the MTA wrote in its court filing. The agency also said the analysis of Metro’s problems satisfies Leon’s order and asked the judge to reinstate federal approval of the project to allow construction to begin.
Responding Friday, the agencies said a new environmental study is not needed because even if there were to be a ridership decline on the Purple Line because fewer riders were transferring from Metro, it wouldn’t change the footprint of the project or its environmental impact. About 27 percent of the Purple Line’s ridership is expected to transfer from Metro.
“Potential effects that may result from a Purple Line ridership decline due to [Metro] issues would be minimal,” the FTA wrote in its filing. The agency also notes that federal law does not require it to analyze other alternatives—such as a Bus Rapid Transit line. Instead, it’s only required to consider the new information about Metro.
In addition to what the FTA considers to be the highly unlikely scenario of no Metro riders using the Purple Line, the agency also looked at four other scenarios to determine Metro’s potential impact on the Purple Line. The agency found:
- If Metrorail ridership grows by about 40 percent from 2018 to 2040, then Purple Line ridership would be estimated at 66,766 riders per weekday.
- If Metrorail ridership grows at about 20 percent from 2018 to 2040, then Purple Line ridership would be 64,463 per weekday.
- If Metrorail ridership stabilizes, but doesn’t grow from 2018 to 2040, then Purple Line ridership would be 62,768 per weekday.
- If Metrorail ridership continues to decline at the rate it has declined from 2008 to 2015—about 5 percent—then Purple Line ridership would be 60,276 per weekday.
Construction was scheduled to begin this year, but has been delayed due to the lawsuit.
Charles Lattuca, the Purple Line project director, wrote in a court document filed Friday that further delaying the construction could cost the state $13 million per month and that an extended delay could cause the state to lose the $400 million it already invested in the project.
Now that the two transit agencies have responded to the order, the plaintiffs in the case have two weeks to respond to the motion. After that, the judge is expected to consider the arguments and issue a new ruling.