UPPER MARLBORO – A decision by a U.S. Appeals Court will allow construction on the Purple Line to continue.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decided in a ruling by a three-judge panel on Dec. 19 that federal and state agencies fulfilled their due diligence in analyzing how the light-rail project would be affected by ongoing problems at Metro and reversed a district court order for a new environmental impact study.
The nonprofit Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and two residents sued Maryland and federal transit officials in August 2014, trying to block the project on environmental grounds.
“Requiring more detail on requiring more detail on rejected alternatives would elevate form over function,” Judge Judith Rogers wrote in the opinion. “The process undertaken fulfilled (the National Environmental Policy Act’s) purpose to identify and analyze project alternatives, to make that analysis available for public comment, and to respond to those comments in a manner that explained the preferred alternative, thereby promoting reasoned, well-considered decision making.”
Officials broke ground on the Purple Line in August. The 16-mile 21-stop light rail will run between New Carrollton and Bethesda and cost about $5.6 billion.
Officials expect the project to be completed in 2022.
“We view (the ruling) as just opening the door to really focus on the work that we’ve been focused on, and we view this as a real pivotal moment,” said Kim Ross, Project Director with the Purple Line Corridor Coalition. “With the Purple Line construction underway, it’s really time to take steps now to make sure we capture the benefits of this massive transit investment for the communities along the line.”
Ross said the Purple Line might help grow the labor market along the corridor. Now that the appeals court has made its decision, she said officials can continue focusing on how to leverage these opportunities and prepare for the coming changes.
“We want to encourage a real strategic thinking, short-term and long-term, looking at what sectors might grow and how to prepare for that,” she said.
In November, county leaders signed an agreement to protect local housing communities and small businesses along the Purple Line corridor. The deal is not legally binding.
Gregory Sanders, vice president of the board of directors for the coalition group Purple Line NOW!, said the organization was “excited about the (court’s) ruling.....It was pretty much everything we’d hoped for.”
He said now that the court has determined the project can move forward without further study, the focus can soon be on “making sure we get the best Purple Line.”
“It’s been a long, strange journey,” Sanders said. “We’re glad we can get to the point where it’s full speed ahead and get the benefits to future riders.”
Ajay Bhatt, president of the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, described the ruling as “a sad loss for the (Capital Crescent) Trail” and “a loss for transit, not only in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County but the entire region.”
A portion of the Capital Crescent Trail in Montgomery County closed in September for Purple Line construction.
“Sustainability is about maximizing your existing resources, not about building brand-new for the sake of building brand-new, because you automatically assume that things are just going to happen because you build something brand-new,” Bhatt said. “When we talk about an environmental impact statement, it’s not just what is it going to do to the immediate 16-mile corridor, with regards to how many trees are going to come down, but it’s a matter of looking at this from a holistic view.”
He further believes with constant new development in transportation, the Purple Line will likely be outdated within the first few years of its opening and therefore not worth the hefty cost.
“If we’re going to spend $6 billion on transit, shouldn’t it be on making transit accessible for everyone in Maryland, not just in the 16-mile corridor?” Bhatt said.
He said the organization is “reviewing our legal options”before moving forward.