In Latest Court Volley, Purple Line Opponents Say Transit Agencies Failed To Examine Metro’s Problems
Chevy Chase residents and a trail group ask judge to require a new environmental assessment for the light-rail project
Christine Real de Azua testifies during a public hearing in Silver Spring in October
The plaintiffs in the ongoing Purple Line federal lawsuit wrote in court documents filed Thursday that the two transit agencies overseeing construction of the light-rail project failed to adequately analyze Metro’s problems before dismissing them in December.
The latest filings in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia are the response from Chevy Chase residents Christine Real de Azua and John Fitzgerald and the trail advocacy group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail—the plaintiffs in the case—to the December documents filed by the Maryland Transit and Federal Transit administrations.
The plaintiffs are asking Judge Richard Leon to order a full Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the project—a move that would trigger public hearings and a new analysis of the 16.2-mile light-rail project. The line, to be built from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County, is estimated to cost $5.6 billion over a 36-year contract with Purple Line Transit Partners, the firm contracted to build, maintain and operate the line.
“The [transit agencies’] modus operandi was and continues to be an outcome-driven analysis with the wasteful Purple Line as the goal, as opposed to sound transportation policy,” Ajay Bhat, president of Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, said in a statement. “Meanwhile, with Metro’s needs in the billions [of dollars], and other transportation resources at risk of being cannibalized by the Purple Line, it is time to set this project aside.”
The Purple Line’s route would connect the light-rail with Metro at four stations in Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton. In their December filing, the two transit agencies wrote that even if no riders transferred from Metro to the Purple Line at the stations, the project would still fulfill its goal of providing a reliable east-west transit system between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Simulating the most dire circumstances, the agencies found the Purple Line would still have about 50,000 weekday riders by 2040 even if no one transferred from Metro. The most recent forecasting by MTA projects that about 27 percent of the Purple Line’s 2040 ridership of 69,300 weekday riders would come from Metro.
The agencies asked Leon to reinstate the project’s federal approval, or Record of Decision, so construction can begin. Leon vacated that approval in an August ruling, citing Metro’s issues, but then altered that ruling in November to allow the FTA to determine whether it believed a new environmental assessment is needed. Construction was originally scheduled to begin at the end of 2016, but the groundbreaking was put on hold due to the lawsuit.
The latest filings from the Chevy Chase residents and trail group claim the transit agencies failed to adequately assess the impact that Metro’s safety issues and ridership decline could have on the environmental effects of the Purple Line. The filing describes the agencies’ assessment as a “red herring” that focused on whether the environment would be affected by lower ridership rather than examining if alternatives, such as an upgraded bus system, could have less of a negative impact on the environment.
“Having sidestepped the critical question of whether less destructive and costly alternatives previously rejected as inadequate to meet past ridership projections should now be reconsidered, [the transit agencies] reached their preordained conclusion that no SEIS need be prepared,” the filing says.
The court filing also questions the projected ridership figures of the Purple Line and asserts that creating an east-west transit link between the two counties could be satisfied by a less costly transit project.
The transit agencies now have until Jan. 12 to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion before Leon considers the arguments of both sides. The judge has not set a deadline for issuing an updated ruling in the case, according to court filings.