Another disappointing decision for Purple Line supporters

WASHINGTON — In another disappointing decision for supporters of the Purple Line, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon denied a request to stay his order that stripped the project of its federal approval.

Leon’s ruling on Monday was not unexpected following a hearing earlier this month when he suggested Maryland acted too hastily in signing a $5.6 billion contract to build the 16-mile light rail line from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia could still stay Leon’s order, as Maryland transportation leaders recently filed an emergency motion with the federal appeals court, hoping for movement on the project.

Construction on the line was supposed to start at the end of 2016.

“The Purple Line has broad support,” Maryland officials said in court documents. “If not stayed or reversed before August 1, 2017, that order could cause the state to cancel the project, resulting in a financial loss to the state of approximately $800 million.”

Last year, the judge’s order removed the project’s federal approval and directed Maryland to conduct a fresh supplemental environmental review.

Maryland is appealing the judge’s decision.

However, without the federal approval in place, the state cannot secure $900 million in federal funding and begin construction. State transportation officials said if the judge’s order is stayed, they will have access to the federal money and receive enough funding to keep the project alive as the appeal plays out.

“After decades of review and public involvement, holding the congressionally appropriated funds hostage is not fair to the taxpayers of Maryland,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn. “We are asking the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to expeditiously grant our stay, opening the door for federal funding.”

According to the court documents, Congress has appropriated $325 million of its $900 million commitment to the Purple Line, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have committed approximately $335 million.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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