DALLAS -- Advocates of Maryland’s $5.6 billion Purple Line public-private partnership project want an end to a lengthy judicial delay that they said is threatening the proposed 16-mile system.
Work on the Purple Line rail project in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., was halted in August by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon just days before the state was to sign a full funding agreement for a $900 million federal grant. The New Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration had been expected to pay for about half of the project’s $2 billion construction costs.
The 16.2-mile rail line, which would stretch from New Carrollton in Prince George's County to Bethesda in Montgomery County, would connect to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system, AMTRAK, and regional commuter lines.
The court-ordered delay is expensive and unnecessary, costing the taxpayers money for no good reason, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said at a rally on Tuesday. Work on the Purple Line had been set to begin in late 2016 with completion by 2022.
“Let me just say very politely, ‘Judge, your delay in making a decision is costing taxpayers money -- every day, every hour,’ ” Leggett said.
Holding a rally in an effort to put an end to a judicial delay is unusual but the situation is unprecedented, he said.
“People don’t normally do this but normally you don’t have a project in abeyance when there is no clear justification,” Leggett said. “This [order] should have been revoked long ago.”
The rally was held to let Leon know that the Purple Line is an urgently needed transportation link, said Ralph Bennett, president of the advocacy group Purple Line Now.
“There is only one obstacle remaining to the realization of this project, and that is a judge,” Bennett said. “Maryland cannot afford to finance this state of affairs very much longer.”
The Purple Line is a critical aspect of infrastructure development in the state, said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin, D-Md.
“We need this project,” Raskin said at the rally. “We want the decision about the Purple Line to come quickly so we can get on the Purple Line and start moving rapidly around the region.”
The omnibus budget accord for fiscal 2017 includes $125 million for the Purple Line but the money would available only if a funding agreement is signed by the end of September, Raskin said.
“Congress has made itself clear,” he said. “We want the Purple Line built.”
Work on the project was halted by Leon at the request of a group challenging the Purple Line until supplemental ridership projections for it could be reviewed.
Plaintiffs in the environmental lawsuit contend that the Federal Transit Administration erred when it did not consider whether declining ridership on the Metrorail system, which has plagued by breakdowns and delays due to extensive maintenance problems would result in fewer passengers using the Purple Line.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a motion in late March that requested a final judgment by April 28 on whether the dispute over the project’s ridership should delay construction of the line.
Maryland has already spent $380 million on preparations for the project and is losing $13 million per month because of the delay, according to court filings by the Maryland Transit Administration.
Maryland signed a contract in April 2016 with Purple Line Transit Partners to finance, and build the Purple Line and then operate it for 30 years with availability payments of $150 million per year.
Rob Chappell, CEO of Purple Line Partners, said they are ready to get to work as soon as the court order is lifted.
“When we get the green light, there’s no delay,” he said. “We’re jumping and we’re going.”