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Judge Delays Purple Line Again, Jeopardizing The Project's Future

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Purple Line rendering
A rendering of a Purple Line train

The fate of the Purple Line could be in jeopardy after a federal judge delayed the project again on Monday. 

Judge Richard Leon ruled the light-rail project requires further study in light of Metro's falling ridership, NBC Washington reports

"I find that defendants have failed to take the requisite 'hard look' at the potential impacts that WMATA's ridership and safety issues could have on the Purple Line project," Leon said in his ruling

The decision puts the project's federal funding at risk. The $125M Congress set aside for the Purple Line last month was contingent on a full $900M federal funding agreement being signed by September. That agreement cannot be signed until a judge reinstates the project's environmental approval, which Leon vacated in August.  

Leon's August ruling came in response to a lawsuit from Purple Line opponents, citing the safety issues and falling ridership the Metro has experienced. The Federal Transit Administration in December told Leon the line would have sufficient ridership despite Metro's woes, which supporters argued should be enough for him to allow it to move forward. But Leon took another five months to issue a decision, delaying the ability for his ruling to be appealed.

Larry Hogan MGM
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at the MGM National Harbor grand opening

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked Leon to rule by April 28, saying the delay was costing taxpayers money. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett held a rally the following week pressuring Leon to make a decision. In his ruling, Leon blamed his busy court docket for his delay in making a decision. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Leon's ruling ignores transportation and environmental experts and the state will continue to fight for the project. 

"This is not a political issue," Hogan said in a statement. "It's an important transportation and transit priority for Maryland and the region that has strong bipartisan support. The state will continue to pursue any and all legal action to ensure that the Purple Line will move forward."

The 16-mile line stretching from Bethesda to New Carrollton has already sparked a number of major developments. The developers of two major Bethesda projects near the line's western terminus, Carr Properties and JBG, both told Bisnow last month they would move forward with or without the light rail. 

The Coalition for Smarter Growth, a transit advocate, said Metro ridership will recover following the system's repairs and the Purple Line is not dependent on the DC transportation system anyway.

"The Purple Line is a badly needed east-west transit connection for access to jobs and revitalization, and significant ridership will be driven by that demand, as well as the revitalization inside the Beltway that the project will spur," CSG executive director Stewart Schwartz said in a statement.