The fate of Maryland’s Purple Line light rail system looks gloomy after federal judge orders more reviews of the $5.6 billion P3 project.
Purple Line light rail system’s 21 stations would include one at University of Maryland campus.

DALLAS – A proposed six-month delay in the construction of Maryland's Purple Line light rail project could derail the $5.6 billion transit project that is being financed and built as public-private partnership, the state's top lawyer said in a legal filing last week.

The construction moratorium was suggested in mid-June by federal District Judge Richard Leon, who is hearing a federal environmental lawsuit filed in 2014 by Maryland residents seeking to halt the Purple Line project.

Leon said on June 15 that a short delay to review revised ridership projections is unlikely to harm the project. But Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said the delay "would be profoundly disruptive and could jeopardize" it.

Even a short delay "could have cascading consequences on the project schedule and financing arrangements" for the Purple Line, Frosh said in a supplemental memorandum filed June 29 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit said in their filing that a six-month delay would allow a review of their claims that ridership on the system would be less than expected and produce lower revenues due to the recent maintenance woes of the Washington Metrorail system.

The 16-mile rail system will stretch across Washington's Maryland suburbs to provide direct connections with Metrorail's Orange Line, Green Line and two branches of the Red Line, as well as Amtrak and the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train.

"We have a dire need to fix Metro before we attach things to it that rely on it," said John M. Fitzgerald, a Maryland environmental lawyer who is a plaintiff in the 2014 lawsuit.

The plaintiffs asked for the delay to review the state's ridership projection data that they said has been withheld because the analysis would require the use of proprietary software.

The state's attorneys said in their filing that the data was provided to the plaintiffs in July 2015 and could be accessed with commercially available software.

The plaintiffs also want Judge Leon to both vacate the federal government's approval in 2014 of the Purple Line's final environmental impact statement and order a new EIS to be developed.

The memorandum from Frosh and lawyers for the Maryland Transit Administration said the plaintiffs have failed to link the problems experienced by the Metrorail system operated by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority with a decline in ridership on the Purple Line.

The Federal Transit Administration is currently reviewing revised ridership projections that are close to the original estimate of 74,000 riders per day by 2040, Frosh said.

"Plaintiffs' arguments seek to capitalize on the intense public attention and media coverage surrounding the recent Metro service disruptions," Frosh said. "At bottom, plaintiffs' arguments rest on little more than a speculative 'doomsday scenario' in which the Metro system's current difficulties are never effectively addressed, even by 2040."

The construction financing includes $313 million of private activity bonds issued in June by the Maryland Economic Development Corp. and an $873 million federal low-interest loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Both received a BBB-plus from Fitch Ratings and S&P Global Ratings.

The Purple Line will be financed, built, and operated by Purple Line Transit Partners, an international consortium of Fluor Enterprises, Meridiam Infrastructure Purple Line, and Star America Fund.

The private placement of the PABs on June 17 completed the project financing, said Hans Dekker, president of Fluor's infrastructure business.

"Fluor and our partners have successfully achieved financial close through innovative financing and proven integrated solutions approaches," Dekker said.

Last month's financial closing puts the project on schedule for completion in 2022, said Peter Rahn, Maryland's transportation secretary.

"Bond investors' strong interest and our partners' private equity investments are a testament to the value and future success of the Purple Line," Rahn said.

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