Citing Metro Woes, Federal Judge Orders Another Study of Purple Line Light-Rail Project

In court filings, state officials said delay for extra study could jeopardize project


Rendering of a Bethesda-bound Purple Line train


A federal judge on Wednesday vacated federal government approval of the Purple Line light-rail in a decision that could jeopardize the long-planned project set to start construction later this year.

U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Richard Leon wrote his decision was based solely on how declining Metro ridership and recent Metro safety issues might impact projected ridership for the Purple Line, a 16-mile light-rail that’s separate from Metrorail but that would include stations near or at several Metro stations.

A group of Chevy Chase activists who sued the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in an effort to stop the Purple Line based primarily on environmental concerns filed additional claims last fall about how Metro’s recent issues could mean decreased ridership for the light-rail.

The plaintiffs, which include Chevy Chase residents and a nonprofit called Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, said the ridership question should require the MTA to conduct a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS), a detailed study of the preferred Purple Line route in comparison to other alternatives.

The federal government had already approved the MTA’s environmental impact statement for the Purple Line by issuing a Record of Decision, which Leon ordered vacated Wednesday.

“I find that defendants’ failure to adequately consider [Metro’s] ridership and safety issues was arbitrary and capricious, and that these conditions create the ‘seriously different picture’ that warrant an SEIS,” Leon wrote. “While it is true that [Metro] is a distinct entity from MTA, which would own and operate the Purple Line, this does not provide a rational basis for defendants’ summary conclusion that a decline in ridership thereon has no effect on the Purple Line, given that the previous projections estimated over one quarter of Purple Line riders would use the [Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority] Metrorail as part of their trip.”

During a hearing on the lawsuit in June, Leon asked attorneys representing the MTA and FTA about the possibility of delaying the light-rail project for six months to conduct the SEIS.

In court filings after the June hearing, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined MTA attorneys to tell Leon that delaying the project for six months “could jeopardize” it and to further argue why the light-rail project shouldn’t be judged against Metro’s safety and maintenance problems.

The MTA projected the Purple Line would have a daily ridership of 74,000 people by 2040.

Construction on the project is scheduled to start this year and run through 2022. State officials also reportedly scheduled a public event Monday to celebrate the expected signing of a $900 million federal grant to help build the light-rail, which would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

The MTA didn’t have an immediate response to Leon’s ruling, which was published Wednesday afternoon.

Back to Bethesda Beat

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Articles

Prosecutors Push To Use Confession of Man Charged With Murdering Pregnant Girlfriend; Hogan Pulls National Guard Soldiers From Border

News, announcements and other helpful links for Wednesday morning

Clark Enterprises Looks To Sell Headquarters Building in Downtown Bethesda

Metro Center Plaza developer accuses the construction company of protecting its own interests rather than looking out for community

Bethesda Private Schools Decide To Drop AP Classes; Marriott To Celebrate Groundbreaking with Root Beer Giveaway

News, announcements and other helpful links for Tuesday morning

School Notes: National Merit Scholarships Awarded to 10 MCPS Students

Plus: Quick-thinking fifth-grader pulls fellow youngster to safety; Wootton High student receives congressional honor
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module


Your Guides to Leading
Local Professionals

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module

Edit Module

Joel Rubin for Delegate District 18

Apple Ballot endorsed, Chevy Chase Town Council member and Obama administration official, Joel will put education first so all students succeed. Early voting ends June 21.


Bethesda Magazine Green Awards

Nominations are now accepted. The submission deadline is Friday, June 29.