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Maryland agency must reevaluate Purple Line's projected ridership, judge rules


The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) must recalculate ridership projections for its proposed Purple Line light-rail project due to safety issues and declining ridership on the nearby Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) rail system, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon ruled Wednesday.

Leon's ruling vacates the Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) 2014 record of the decision for the project, making it temporarily ineligible for federal aid.

In MTA's environmental impact statement for the project, agency officials estimated that more than a quarter of Purple Line riders would use WMATA's rail system as part of their trip. Advocacy group Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail then brought a case against MTA and argued that WMATA's declining ridership and recurring safety problems warranted the preparation of a supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS).

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), agencies are required to prepare an SEIS when facing "new and significant circumstances or information relevant to the environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impacts," according to Leon.

In his ruling, Leon said he couldn't "turn a blind eye to the recent extraordinary events involving seemingly endless Metrorail breakdowns and safety issues."

"These serious issues, which may have long-term effects on Metro ridership, only underscore how important it was for defendants to take the requisite hard look at the potential effect of Metro's safety issues on future Purple Line ridership and any related environmental issues," wrote Leon, adding that WMATA and FTA have displayed a "cavalier attitude toward these recent developments."

Before the MTA can continue with the project, the agency must prepare an SEIS addressing ridership concerns.

"While a temporary halt in the project is not ideal, it would make little sense and cause even more disruption if defendants were to proceed with the project while the SEIS was being completed, only to subsequently determine that another alternative is preferable," Leon wrote.

MTA officials were expecting to secure $900 million in federal funding for the project, but, as a result of the court ruling, the FTA has postponed approving the funds indefinitely, The Washington Post reported.

The 16-mile Purple Line would run from Bethesda, Md., to New Carrollton, Md. WMATA's Red Line has a stop in Bethesda, while its Orange Line has one in New Carrollton.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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