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Federal judge issues Purple Line setback

A US district court judge stated the Federal Transit Administration failed to consider Washington’s recent Metro struggles when analysing the Purple Line project.

A US federal judge has ordered Federal Transit Administration officials to study how the Metro’s recent safety and ridership issues in the Washington, DC area might affect the Purple line transit project.

US District Court for DC Judge Richard Leon followed up on his ruling in August that the state of Maryland failed to consider the impact of Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail’s recent safety and ridership issues could have on the 16.2-mile light rail line project. Leon stated that several Purple Line stations will connect to Metro stations and cited a FTA estimation that 27 percent of Purple Line riders will also ride on the Metro.

The Purple Line project will run east to west inside the Capital Beltway – between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County – with 21 stations. It will provide direct connections to four branches of Washington’s Metro and three connections to regional commuter rail lines and Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.

Purple Line Transit Partners, a consortium led by Paris-based Meridiam Infrastructure, won the right to develop the line in March, and reached financial close for the $2 billion project in June.

Procured as a public-private partnership, the project qualified for an $875 million TIFIA loan from the US Department of Transportation and $367 million in Private Activity Bonds, designated as Green Bonds, underwritten by JP Morgan and RBC Capital Markets.

Leon left it up to government officials and experts to “determine the significance of WMATA’s ridership and safety issues and determine what level of additional environmental analysis is required”, he wrote.

“While a protracted delay in the project could impose significant financial costs and logistical difficulties on the public and private entities involved in its construction,” Leon wrote in his opinion, “so too, if not worse, would be the disruptive consequences of allowing it to proceed” without necessary analysis.

Leon also did not reinstate an environmental document that would allow the project to move forward. However, he did not order the FTA to completely redo a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which could have delayed the project for months.