Claiming that the Purple Line is nearing a “crisis point,” Maryland transportation officials have asked a federal appeals court to issue an emergency order allowing construction to begin on the stalled $5.6 billion light-rail project. 

Maryland’s appeal follows U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon’s June 26 refusal to restore the Purple Line’s environmental approvals while the state and Federal Transit Administration appeal his earlier ruling requiring a reassessment of the project’s ridership projections in light of recent declines on the separately operated Metrorail system. Maryland claims in its appeals court filing that critical decisions about the public-private project’s future must be made on or about August 1.

One option would be to cancel the Purple Line entirely, a move the state says would cost approximately $800 million. 

The Purple Line has been on hold since August 2016, when Leon blocked the project in order to weigh the merits of a lawsuit challenging the project’s environmental and ridership studies. Although Leon subsequently dismissed most of the lawsuit, he maintained that state and federal transit officials “failed to take the requisite ‘hard look’” at recent downward trends in Metro’s ridership, which previous studies estimate will account for approximately 27% of Purple Line riders via system transfers at five planned co-located stations.

In addition to putting $900 million in federal funding support for the Purple Line in jeopardy, the protracted delay has increased project costs by approximately $13 million a month, according to Maryland transportation officials. On May 31, the state halted execution of new construction contracts and procurements of non-essential materials and equipment by the Fluor-led Purple Line Development Partners, and implemented a hiring freeze for both contractor and state oversight personnel.

This post was edited on June 27 with updated information