As a Monday groundbreaking looms for the light-rail Purple Line project, the trail advocacy group that has fought the project in court since 2014 is not giving up. It is urging the state to not move forward with construction activities until an ongoing lawsuit is settled.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., reinstated the project’s federal approval after federal District Court Judge Richard Leon called for a new environmental analysis. Leon ordered the Federal Transit Administration and Maryland to study what effects Metro’s ridership decline and safety issues would have on the project.
The state and FTA appealed. The appeals court is now weighing Leon’s order. The court set an expedited schedule to do so.
Supporters have said the expedited schedule and emergency stay to reinstate the project’s federal approval show that the court is likely to rule in the state’s favor.
The stay has allowed the state to reach an agreement with the federal government to access the $900 million in federal money proposed for the project. It also enabled the state to move forward with construction, despite the court case.
On Monday morning, Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao are scheduled to participate in a ceremonial signing of the grant agreement in Hyattsville, as well as a groundbreaking for the project.
But Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement Friday that no irreversible construction activity should take place until the court case is settled.
“Contrary to the hype, the Purple Line is not a done deal just because the court issued a temporary reprieve,” the statement from the group’s president, Ajay Bhatt, said. “The case in the Court of Appeals has yet to be heard and judiciousness dictates that no irreversible actions be undertaken.
“While the District Court used common sense to recognize that ridership flaws pose serious questions about the supposed benefits and viability of this project, we have yet to present our case for the Appellate Court’s evaluation of these flaws and the many harmful environmental effects including on air, water and noise.
“It would be appropriate that no clear-cutting of forest and trees should occur until the Court of Appeals has had the opportunity to rule.”
The other two plaintiffs in the case are Town of Chevy Chase residents John Fitzgerald and Christine Real de Azua.
The court requested that the plaintiffs submit their appellant briefs in the case on Sept. 8. They would state why they believe Leon’s ruling should be affirmed, as well as argue for why other potential environmental issues should be considered by the court. After that, an oral argument in the case would likely be scheduled by the court.
The plaintiffs and their attorneys have spent a considerable amount of time and resources litigating the case. In February, they filed a request in District Court asking for more than $500,000 in legal fees.
On Thursday, Prince George’s County attorneys filed an amicus, or friend of the court, brief in support of the state’s request to reverse the lower court’s ruling. They argued that the 16.2-mile light-rail project is integral to the county’s long-term economic development plans.
“Failure to implement the Purple Line would negate nearly 20 years of planning and development policy in Prince George’s County and render this extensive work obsolete,” the brief states. “It will also invalidate the assumptions impacting the zoning of thousands of properties, result in the loss of millions of dollars of taxpayer money that was spent on these planning and zoning efforts, and undermine public confidence in local and state government.”
Montgomery County plans to file an amicus brief in support of the state on Monday.
If built, the Purple Line would extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. It would include 21 stations, including four that connect to Metro stations in Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.
The state partnered last year with a team of finance and construction companies, known as Purple Line Transit Partners, to build, operate and maintain the light-rail line under a 36-year, $5.6 billion contract.
Purple Line map via Maryland Transit Administration (click to expand)