A federal judge has ruled that the Purple Line light-rail project cannot continue until Metro’s ridership and safety concerns are analyzed by the Federal Transit Administration.
Judge Richard J. Leon also said the FTA can decide whether to provide additional environmental analysis.
“I find that the Federal Transit Administration must be given the initial opportunity to assess significance of this new information and determine whether a full supplemental environmental impact statement is necessary,” Leon wrote in an 11-page ruling issued Tuesday, Nov. 22.
In an opinion from August, Leon stated the FTA and the state of Maryland failed to assess Metro’s recent problems and connection to the Purple Line, which would have 21 stations in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and link to Metro’s Orange, Green and Red lines.
Leon reaffirmed his position as Metro ended the 10th phase, or surge, of its massive SafeTrack maintenance overhaul project.
The 11th project, which began Monday, Nov. 28 and is scheduled to end Dec. 21, will have continuous single-tracking on the Orange and Silver lines between the East Falls Church and West Falls Church stations in Northern Virginia.
FTA and Maryland officials’ current environmental statement projects that by 2040, about 27 percent of all Purple Line trips would include Metrorail.
“The agencies’ categorical decision not to evaluate the significance of [Metro’s] new safety and ridership issues was arbitrary and capricious,” he wrote. “The record indicates that Maryland, nor the FTA, undertook a careful evaluation of the significance of the new [Metro]-related information, but rather attempted to sidestep information the information and rely erroneously on the formal, legal distinction between [Metro] and the Purple Line.”
The roughly $2.5 billion construction project was approved by the FTA nearly two years ago with oversight by the Maryland Transportation Administration.
It’s unclear when the FTA and Maryland officials would need to provide the judge its determination on whether more environmental data would be needed, but the fact that the judge didn’t reject the project outright offered a glimmer of hope for supporters.
But Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail of Montgomery County filed a lawsuit against the project, causing a delay in construction of the 16-mile light-rail scheduled to begin this year and completed in 2022.
The group opposes the Purple Line based on several environmental concerns such as air, water and noise pollution and the elimination of endangered species.
Meanwhile, Prince George’s officials continue to push for transit-oriented development, especially in the northern part of the county where the Purple Line would start in New Carrollton and stretch west into Bethesda.
“This ruling can’t stop the forward motion on the Purple Line,” said Councilwoman Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi, whose district would have two Purple Line stations. “We have a lot invested in this project. It closes the east-west divide. It can also revitalize [northern Prince George’s] from Langley Park all the way to New Carrollton. At the end of the day, we have to push this project forward.”