Md. Gov. Hogan tries to force federal judge to rule on Purple Line

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DALLAS – Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has directed the state attorney general to seek a mandate requiring a ruling in a federal lawsuit that has delayed work on the $5.6 billion Purple Line rail public-private partnership since August.

Hogan sent a letter late Thursday to Attorney General Brian Frosh to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals to order U.S. district court Judge Richard Leon to rule on whether the project can proceed.

“I am directing you to immediately proceed with the petition for a writ of mandamus as requested by the Maryland Secretary of Transportation,” Hogan said in the letter. “The secretary and I have both concluded that it is necessary, on behalf of the citizens of Maryland, to take action to force U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to make a decision in the Purple Line litigation pending before him.”

Hogan told Frosh to file the case as quickly as possible because the state stands to lose “several million dollars because of this delay."

Lawyers for the Maryland Transit Administration, which will oversee the project, have said the delay is costing the state $13 million a year. Maryland could also be on the hook for a termination payment of more than $100 million to Purple Line Transit Partners, the intended builder and operator of the rail line, if it pulls out of the project because of the delay.

Purple Line Partners, an international consortium that includes Fluor Corp., Meridiam, and Star America, is committed to building the rail line, said Rob Chappell, chief executive and project manager for the private partner.

“For the time being and the immediate future — for the next three to four months — we’re on board,” Chappell said. “Right now, we’re looking to be on board as long as our partners in the state will have us because we’re committed to building this project. We’re confident the project’s going to move forward.”

Writs of mandamus are usually issued only in exceptional circumstances, said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.

“It’s a very difficult challenge,” Leggett said. “But given the amount of resources at stake and the difficultness that this delay creates, I guess the governor is looking at that and saying we’re getting to the point where we need to take drastic actions.”

Judge Leon vacated federal approval for the Purple Line in August, just days before the state was to officially accept a $900 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to build the project.

Leon stopped work on the project at the requests of plaintiffs in an environmental lawsuit opposing the rail line. He cited concerns that ridership demand for the Purple Line might not reach projections due to the falling number of passengers on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s breakdown-plagued Metrorail system.

Frosh filed a motion with the court 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.

Hogan noted in his letter to Frosh that “the judge missed your deadline.”

The construction schedule had called for work to begin in late 2016 with completion by March 2022, but the timing has slipped due to the legal delay.

The Purple Line would include 21 stations along the 16.2-mile route inside the Capital Beltway between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.

The state’s contract with Purple Line Partners requires the private investors to finance about $1 billion of the line’s $1.99 billion construction costs, build it over six years, and then operate and maintain the system for 30 years. The state would make monthly availability payments averaging $150 million per year that would also provide debt service on the private partner’s construction financing.

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