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Officials in Montgomery Co. and Maryland welcome Purple Line ruling

The proposed route of the Purple Line. (Courtesy MDOT)

WASHINGTON — Purple Line supporters are cheering the decision by a federal appeals court that they say gets the light rail project back on track.

Late Wednesday, the appellate court in the D.C. Circuit issued a stay on a lower-court ruling that had previously stalled the Purple Line, which would run from New Carrollton to Bethesda.

The appellate court decision could allow Maryland to move ahead with construction on the Purple Line while the court battle continues, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said.

“The court has certainly signaled very strongly that it is sympathetic to the state of Maryland and Montgomery County and our region in believing that this Purple Line is a go,” Berliner said.

Supporters of the light rail project had been fighting an earlier decision by federal District Judge Richard Leon that called for a new environmental study, despite an earlier approval.

“Judge Leon so abused his authority by substituting his judgment for that of the federal agencies responsible for this project that the court of appeals said that this is not OK,” Berliner said.

When a lower court blocked the progress of the Purple Line, Maryland officials said construction on the project would not be able to move forward because federal dollars could dry up. The Purple Line was days away from getting access to federal funds when Judge Leon issued his ruling calling for the new environmental study.

“In effect, what the judges have done is reinstated the federal government’s approval of this project, and now this project is available for federal funds,” Berliner said of the decision by the three-member court.

Berliner said that means the project could have access to $900 million.

“We believe that we will be successful in getting those dollars,” he told WTOP.

“It’s a good day for our region; it’s a good day for the rule of law and it’s a good day for transit,” Berliner added.

Amelia Chase, deputy communications director for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the order “is tremendous news for this vitally important project,” and added that the governor will continue to work closely with federal and local officials to ensure the project “remains on track.”

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn welcomed the ruling as well.

“We will be working with [the U.S. Transportation Department] to move a full funding grant agreement forward,” Rahn said.

Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh was also pleased.

“We will continue to do everything we possibly can to keep the Purple Line moving forward,” Fosh said.

On the other side, opponents of the Purple Line were disappointed.

“The Purple Line does not meet the cost-effectiveness per rider, congestion relief, environmental benefits, avoiding harm to parks and historic places, and other criteria in federal transportation law,” read a statement from Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail.

WTOP’s Max Smith and Jack Pointer contributed to this report.


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