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With legal fight still raging, work picks up on the Purple Line

This handout image from 2016 shows what the exterior of the Purple Line light rail cars would look like. Montgomery County council members approved measure to allowing the Maryland Transit Administration to build and operate the light rail project on county land.(Courtesy Maryland Transit Administration)

WASHINGTON — Work is picking up again on Maryland’s Purple Line even as the state waits to sign a final agreement with the federal government that would provide about $900 million required for the project to move forward.

“With a clear path forward, there are no plans to scale back pre-construction work,” said Maryland Department of Transportation Director Erin Henson in an email. Now, the state and the private companies designing and building the line are resuming preliminary work for about five years of full construction.

The work includes soil boring, surveying, design reviews, steps to purchase additional land needed for the project, and work on specific construction contracts.

The state had slowed pre-construction work to a crawl in May after a federal judge effectively barred the federal funding agreement from being signed until Maryland and the federal government updated the Purple Line’s environmental impact statement to reflect declining ridership on Metro.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn later warned the project could be canceled entirely if delays continued. Last month, an appeals court breathed life back into the project by blocking a lower-court ruling that had effectively halted the project.

Advocacy group Purple Line NOW said it believes the largest remaining question is whether and when Federal Transit Administration will sign the full funding grant agreement that was nearly ready last year before the lower court stepped in.

“We continue to work with our federal partners to move the Full Funding Grant Agreement forward,” Henson said.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation approved an $874.6 million low-interest loan for the 16-mile 21-stop project in addition to the $900 million in direct federal funds

The FTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Opponents of the rail project, which connects New Carrollton, College Park, Silver Spring and Bethesda, are still attempting to block it.

Last week, the opponents filed a motion asking the lower court judge who had blocked the project to hold it up again, despite the fact that the appeals court has put his ruling on hold until a three-judge panel can hear full arguments.

This week, Judge Richard Leon denied that motion and called some of the arguments in it “bald statement[s]” that appeared to go beyond the facts.

The opponents of the line have now filed their own appeal of Leon’s final ruling that challenges the parts that went against them.

 


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