Purple Line partners say work continues despite court setback

While the court continued to keep the project on hold, work continues on the Purple Line. Graphic from Maryland Transit Authority.

Despite a setback in a federal district court, the Purple Line Transit Partners held an open house at Montgomery Blair High School last night to introduce the partnership to the public.

The partnership is three companies, Meridiam Infrastructure Purple Line, LLC (Meridiam), Fluor Enterprises Inc. (Fluor) and Star America Purple Line, LLC (Star America), who will provide the equity investment for the Purple Line.

“It’s time for us to meet the community,” said Robert Chappell, CEO for PLTP, “the people that we’re going to be with here for the next 35 years.”

The event last night was intended to show people the progress that has been made on the project’s design so far, as well as answer the questions resident have.

“If they have questions, they could get their questions answered [last night], he said. “If they can’t get a question answered, we’ll get to the person who can get them an answer back for details.”

In November, Judge Richard Leon issued an order requiring the Federal Transit Administration and the state of Maryland to evaluate, via a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, whether the affect of recent Metro safety issues and a decline in ridership would have on Purple Line ridership. The FTA concluded no such SEIS was required.

Subsequent motions filed by the FTA (one of the defendants) and Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, along with two Chevy Chase residents (the plaintiffs) required an additional ruling from the court.

Earlier this week, the judge issued a ruling that continued to keep the project on hold.

“After careful consideration of the motions, the applicable law, and the entire record in this case, I find that defendants have failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’ at the potential impact that WMATA’s ridership and safety issues could have on the Purple Line project and conclude . . . that an SEIS that addresses these issues is in fact required,” Leon wrote.

That process, unless overturned on appeal, could take many months to conclude.

“We plan on staying here,” Chappell said. “We’re working with the state, the MTA, those are our partners. Whatever happens with the issues they have going on right now that affects everybody . . . we’re waiting to see what they do. We’re here to support them. We’re not just going to walk away.”

Asked to comment on the judge’s ruling, Chappell said, “It’s a positive. At least we have a decision. We’ve been waiting quite a while to get one. I was hoping it would be a different decision, that we could move forward, but at least we do have a decision.”

The partners were not the only ones disappointed in the ruling.

For example, Governor Larry Hogan issued a statement that said, in part, “The fact that it took a federal judge this long to reach the conclusion that more study is needed is completely baffling and, if allowed to stand, will cause irreparable harm to this vital project and cost the state hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars.

“This is not a political issue—it’s an important transportation and transit priority for Maryland and the region that has strong bipartisan support,” the statement continued. “The state will continue to pursue any and all legal action to ensure that the Purple Line will move forward.”

“The slapdash and tardy ruling outright ignores much of the expert testimony that has already answered questions raised again by the Court. Still, we are relieved to finally have a ruling, as Judge Leon has given ample grounds for appeal and we trust that the fundamental strength of the project will be vindicated in higher court,” said Purple Line Now Board President Ralph Bennett said in a statement.

In an email to the Source of the Spring, Ronit Dancis, president of Action Committee for Transit, added, “This week the Purple Line, a shovel-ready, critically needed transit line, was once again delayed by an irregular decision by Judge Leon. We are hoping that the decision will be appealed as soon as possible.”

Dancis also noted that yesterday, news broke from the Federal Transit Administration that federal funds for the Purple Line are still available for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

In the meantime, Chappell said, “We’re ready to go to work.”

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