Judge's Move Delays Last Lawsuit to Block $2B D.C Suburb Light Rail Project
A last-ditch lawsuit seeking to halt construction of the16-mile Purple Line light-rail system in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. has itself been temporarily sidetracked with the recusal of the judge overseeing the case.
U.S. District Court Judge Peter J. Messite announced his withdrawal from the case, citing the proximity of his Montgomery Count residence to a future station on the transit line, and his link to the case, whch "has the potential to indefinitely halt” construction. Messite’s memo to attorneys explained that the location of his residence “might reasonably lead one to question my impartiality.”
The project, being constructed by a team led by Fluor Corp., Lane Construction and Traylor Brothers., is estimated now at $2 billion as a public-private financed venture, but its cost and schedule are under negotiation
A planned March hearing in the suit has been cancelled, and the case reassigned to another judge.
Filed in January 2019 by a local non-profit organization and two residents, the suit alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Clean Water Act by issuing a permit allowing dredging and other work in streams and wetlands without fully considering other options to improve traffic along the Purple Line’s east-west route, which parallels the Capital Beltway and will connect with the D.C. Metrorail system at five of its 21 stations.
The Corps also neglected to independently verify the Maryland Transit Administration’s analysis and proposed remediation plan for abouta half-acre of non-tidal wetlands, more than 5,000 feet of streams and 40 crossings, the suit contends.
The same plaintiffs have pursued other legal attempts to stop the Purple Line, including a lawsuit several years ago that delayed the start of construction for nearly a year until ground was finally broken in August 2017.
A separate federal filing alleging inadequate consideration of declining Metrorail ridership has yet to be adjudicated. Transfers between the two systems are projected to provide as much as 27% of the Purple Line’s ridership.
Originally scheduled to begin full operation in March 2022, the Purple Line will have only its easternmost five-mile segment ready for service by the end of that year.
The remaining 11 miles will require at least another six months to complete, state officials say, due to the area’s denser environment and more coordination issues with existing infrastructure.