Purple Line faces yet another setback

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has delayed Maryland’s plans to build the Purple Line again but stopped short of killing the light rail project.

In a ruling issued on Tuesday, a federal judge upheld an earlier decision requiring Maryland and the federal government to take into consideration Metro’s ongoing safety problems and ridership declines as part of assessments for the Purple Line.

However Judge Richard Leon writes that the Federal Transit Administration should have a chance to decide whether a revised environmental assessment is needed, a process that would trigger a new round of public hearings and other feedback and would delay the project further.

“The judge made a decision late this afternoon and we need time to review it,” said Ryan Nawrocki, senior director with the Maryland Transit Administration.

The FTA approved construction of the light rail project in 2014. Maryland has signed a deal with private contractors that would build and operate the line. And construction was expected to begin this fall until the lawsuit was filed by Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.

The 16-mile light rail line would connect to various Metro stations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. And the existing environmental assessment claims that by 2040 almost a third of all Purple Line trips would also involve a Metro trip.

Metro ridership has plummeted in the past year due to repeated safety scares that shut down parts of the system for extended periods of time and ultimately led to the Metro’s SafeTrack program, which aims to stablize portions of the rail system that are in greatest need of repair. But the extended track closures needed for SafeTrack have resulted in more riders choosing to abandon Metrorail.

Despite the setbacks, Prince George’s County voters overwhelmingly agreed to borrow $120 million to cover the county’s portion of the project when they went to the polls on Nov. 8.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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