WASHINGTON – A three judge appeals court panel ruled Tuesday that a supplemental environmental impact statement isn’t needed to analyze the impact of Metrorail’s safety and ridership problems on the Purple Line, freeing up the project to move forward with construction.
The panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed a district court ruling issued in May by Judge Richard Leon and also affirmed an order that had rejected three challenges to final EIS for the project that had been appealed.
The panel’s opinion, written by Judge Judith Rogers, said that statistics projecting a drop in Metro ridership because of system problems “did not call into question the entirety of the Purple Line, or the choice of light rail over other alternatives, or the Purple Line’s environmental impact.”
The panel’s ruling favors the Federal Transit Administration and the Maryland Transit Administration and is a blow to project opponents -- Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and two residents of Chevy Chase, Md. They have been litigating the project since 2014.
It is also a victory for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association that had filed a friend-of-the-court brief warning that a lengthy delay in the project would pose risks for the future of similar P3 transportation projects
Work on the $5.6 billion 16-mile light rail line project being built under a public-private partnership agreement was halted in early August 2016 when Leon said the FTA had failed to consider whether ridership declines and maintenance problems on the Washington Area Mass Transit Authority’s Metro system would result in fewer passengers transferring to or from the Purple Line.
About 27% of the Purple Line's passengers are expected to use the Metro heavy rail system to connect with the east-west line between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George's County by 2040 – suburbs of Washington, D.C.
A decision by Judge Leon to vacate the project’s federal approval was struck down by the court of appeals in August, allowing Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the state to sign a $900 million full funding grant agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Maryland signed a contract in April with Purple Line Transit Partners, an international consortium of Fluor Enterprises, Meridiam Infrastructure Purple Line, and Star America Fund, to finance, build, and operate the Purple Line. The private partners will operate it for 30 years and receive annual availability payments.
The line is scheduled to open in 2022.