Purple Line judge issues his final ruling on light rail project

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 — Maryland can now appeal a decision blocking the Purple Line light rail project after the federal judge responsible for the case issued a final ruling Tuesday morning.

The decision still directs Maryland to produce a supplemental environmental analysis as the judge ordered last week, but it finds that Maryland and the federal government do prevail on other outstanding issues in the case.

The state attorney general’s office says the state will appeal Tuesday’s final ruling.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said he would explain his decision later on the counts the state and federal government prevailed on.

The state had asked an appeals court last week to force Judge Richard Leon to issue the final decision immediately, but he issued the ruling before the higher court intervened either way.

The group challenging the Purple Line tried several arguments over the last few years before the judge agreed with them last summer that Metro’s declining ridership meant there should be additional analysis.

The Federal Transit Administration found the Purple Line would be a valuable project even without transfers to or from Metro.

The 16-mile light rail line would connect to Metro at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton but it will be operated completely separately from the Metro system.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn has warned that the project could grind to a halt if the order blocking more significant construction remains in place into next month.

“This project will provide tremendous value and benefits to the surrounding communities and the state, and we are hoping the [appeals] court will move forward expeditiously,” he said in a statement to WTOP.

The group of private companies set to build and operate the line, Purple Line Transit Partners, is still hoping the project moves forward

“We were disappointed in Judge Leon’s ruling last week, but we remain committed to this project and will continue to work with our client and partner, the Maryland Transit Administration, as this case moves forward through the legal process,” Director of Public Affairs and Communications Miti Figueredo said in an email.

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