The Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary said he wants to put the brakes on spending for multiple parts of the light-rail Purple Line contract on May 31, according to a news release.
Secretary Pete Rahn had said he would alter the project, a public-private partnership, if District of Columbia District Court Judge Richard Leon failed to make a final decision on a lawsuit by June 1.
Leon made a final ruling, but then State Attorney General Brian Frosh appealed it. Rahn said Wednesday he wanted to be cautious about how the state and how Purple Line Transit Partners spent money for delays in the project, given the uncertainty of when the U.S. Court of Appeals would process Frosh’s appeal.
“With a legal path forward, MDOT’s and the Purple Line’s situation has changed from the unknown circumstances of just two weeks ago,” said Rahn. “With an unknown timeline for an appeal and dwindling available cash to carry the federal reimbursable costs being expended by MDOT; and to protect the taxpayers of Maryland, I am ordering that action be taken immediately.”
Rahn ordered that Purple Line Transit Partners, Federal Transit Administration, the Maryland Transit Administration and any parties involved not add any expenses to the project unless it’s something they agreed was a ‘necessity.’
Leon put the P3 light rail project on hold in November when he vacated FTA’s record of decision, through which FTA would have approved and contributed funding to the project. He said he based the ruling on declining Metro rail ridership and a running list of Metro safety issues. He said in his final ruling despite opposition from MTA and FTA that they would have to write a supplemental environmental impact statement on the project, which requires a months-long study.
Rahn directed Purple Line Transit Partners to:
- Suspend completion of new contracts
- Suspend procurements for all “nonessential” materials and equipment
- Implement a hiring freeze on construction staff
Rahn directed MDOT to:
- Temporarily stop employing more Purple Line oversight staff
- Temporarily prevent more MDOT money from going into county design review
- Remove from the Board of Public Works “any requests” to buy property for right-of-way for the Purple Line.
County Executive Ike Leggett said he supported Rahn’s decision to put some state spending in the project on hold.
“Given the circumstances, I think this is one of the wisest (decisions),” Leggett said Friday.
He said he disagreed with Leon’s decision but wished the judge had made his ruling in less time so that MDOT could have appealed with less time elapsing, with the cost of the project increasing with each month of delay.
“If they had done that five months ago, we probably wouldn’t be in this situation,” Leggett said.