On May 22, a federal judge called for Maryland officials to further examine the possible impact of Metro’s failing ridership on the Purple line. A delay of the light-rail project could put millions of dollars in federal funding in jeopardy.
The ruling means a federal lawsuit by opponents of the Purple Line would have to be resolved before construction on the 16-mile line linking Prince George’s and Montgomery counties could move forward. The lawsuit has have already caused construction to be delayed seven months.
Without a “foreseeable path” to settle the federal lawsuit, Maryland officials said they would be forced to defer all or much of the rail line’s design work and planning because of the lack of state funding. After that, the state would have around 60 days to back out of the public-private partnerships and cancel the project. That move would cost the state an estimated $800 million in contract termination fees and sunk costs, according to a recent court filing by Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn.
Governor Larry Hogan called the ruling “incredibly disappointing, but not entirely surprising.” Hogan condemned the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, saying he was impeding the case on account of a conflict of interest that biased him against Purple Line.
“The fact that it took a federal judge this long to reach the conclusion that more study is needed is completely baffling and if allowed to stand, will cause irreparable harm to this vital project and cost the state hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars,” Hogan said in a statement.
He added, “The state will continue to pursue any and all legal action to ensure that the Purple Line will move forward.” But, there was not mention of the June 1 deadline.
Representatives of the Justice Department and Maryland attorney general’s office said they were currently reviewing the decision, but did not hint whether they would appeal it.
Reopening the study would be costly for the state, said Maryland officials. In fact, every month of delay costs the state over $13 million.
Purple Line opponents have declared Judge Leon’s decision a victory.