State Transportation Secretary Orders Suspension of ‘Key’ Purple Line Work

Pete Rahn says move is necessary as it appeals judge’s ruling to study light-rail line’s ridership


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A Purple Line sign on Connecticut Avenue

Andrew Metcalf

Maryland is moving to suspend “key elements” of pre-construction work on the Purple Line as it faces mounting costs and an unclear timeline to contest a judge’s order requiring examination of projected ridership on the proposed light-rail line.

State Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn ordered the state’s contractor on the project—Purple Line Transit Partners—to suspend the execution of new construction contracts and procurements for non-essential materials and equipment, and to freeze hiring of construction staff, according to a Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) news release issued Wednesday.

Rahn also asked the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to freeze hiring of oversight staff for the project and suspend state funding for county design reviews. And he directed Purple Line officials to limit further costs on the project except for “those of agreed necessity.”

The move to suspend pre-construction activities comes after U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on Tuesday dismissed outstanding issues in the long-running Purple Line case that have delayed construction of the light-rail ine, which was scheduled to start late last year. Leon on May 22 had ordered the Federal Transit Administration to reexamine the project’s ridership forecasts after finding that Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues could impact the project.

Leon’s May 22 ruling and his August decision to revoke federal approval of the project have prevented the state from securing the $900 million in federal funds that state officials say is needed for construction to proceed on the light-rail line that is planned to connect Bethesda with New Carrollton along an east-west route.

Rahn previously said in court filings the state would have to suspend Purple Line work on June 1 as state funds for the project were dwindling. He said in the release that Leon’s ruling this week provides a path for the state to appeal the court order. Rahn noted Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General immediately filed a notice of appeal to challenge Leon’s order, but the timeline of the appeal process is uncertain.

“With a legal path forward, MDOT’s and the Purple Line’s situation has changed from the unknown circumstances of just two weeks ago,” Rahn said. “With an unknown timeline for appeal and dwindling available cash to carry the federal reimbursable costs being expended by MDOT; and to protect the taxpayers of Maryland, I am ordering that action be taken immediately.”

Previously, Maryland officials said that paying the private contractor to conduct pre-construction work was costing the state about $13 million per month under its 36-year, $5.6 billion contract with Purple Line Transit Partners. About 200 employees of Purple Line Transit Partners have been working at an office in Riverdale and another 500 have been working on the project elsewhere, according to the team of construction and finance companies.

It’s not immediately clear how the employees working for the contractor would be impacted by the suspension of the pre-construction activities

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