POTOMAC, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday expressed frustration with the status of the Purple Line, the light rail project that’s been tangled in a legal battle for months — and suggested that a judge ruling on the project has a conflict of interest.
On Wednesday, as Hogan announced a $100 million plan to improve traffic on I-270, he was asked whether he felt the Purple Line had been delayed by his own administration’s attempt to reduce the cost of the light rail project back in 2015. Hogan disagreed with the premise of the question, and then ripped into the judge in a case involving the Purple Line.
Hogan said, “We studied [the Purple Line] as soon as I got in; we made the decision to move forward. It had not been held up in any way.”
He continued, “Now there’s a judge who happens to live at the country club that the thing runs through that’s making the decision to hold it up. It has nothing to do with us.”
Hogan was referring to federal judge Richard Leon, who last August issued a ruling in favor of Purple Line opponents, allowing the Federal Transit Administration to weigh in on whether additional environmental review was needed.
In his decision, Leon cited the argument that Metro’s falling ridership and safety issues could affect the success of the Purple Line. The FTA later reiterated that it was satisfied with Maryland’s initial studies. Since then, there has been little word from the judge.
Leon lives miles from the Columbia Country Club that Hogan mentioned. Members of the country club had opposed the transit project, but the club dropped its opposition after state officials agreed to alter the path of the Purple Line to avoid cutting into the course itself.
Hogan said that he urged U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last month to free up federal money crucial to the Purple Line. “We need to get that federal funding shaken loose, but Secretary Chao can’t do anything about a judge whose wife happens to be involved in the opponent group and who has a conflict of interest who’s making a decision to hold things up.”
Judge Leon’s wife, Christine, serves as a block captain for the Brookdale Citizens Association, but Richard Podolske, president of the group, said the civic organization has never taken a position on the Purple Line, although an umbrella group, the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights, did.
WTOP contacted Judge Leon’s chambers for comment regarding Hogan’s accusations, and was told that the request for comment would be passed along to Leon.
State and federal transit agencies have urged the judge to issue a ruling before April 28, but he hasn’t responded to that motion. There is concern about just how long $900 million in federal money for the project could be on the table.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan and Max Smith contributed to this report.