Town of Chevy Chase extends contract with controversial law firm in Purple Line fight


The Purple line route is just south (left) of this block of Connecticut avenue in Chevy Chase, Md. (Bill O'Leary/Washington Post)

The council for the Town of Chevy Chase voted Thursday to spend up to $350,000 for a Washington law firm to provide legal advice and government lobbying to bolster the town’s fight against Maryland’s plans to build a light-rail Purple Line.

The council voted 3 to 1 to hire the firm Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney for $29,000 per month or up to $350,000 total. Council members said the firm would help the town explore legal options and lobby members of Congress and the Federal Transit Administration regarding town officials’ concerns about the transit proposal’s impacts.

The proposed 16-mile Purple Line would run along the town’s border as part of its route between Bethesda and New Carrollton.

The town first hired Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney in December on a monthly basis and has so far paid $40,000 total, town officials said. The monthly rate will rise from $20,000 to $29,000 because the firm has hired two additional legal and lobbying firms as subcontractors, officials said.

Some Purple Line advocates had criticized the hiring of the firm because one of its lawyers working for the town is Robert L. Shuster, the brother of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Transit advocates accused the town of trying to buy political influence.

Map of the proposed Purple Line

Mayor Pat Burda said after Thursday’s vote that Shuster will not lobby his brother.

The $2.2 billion Purple Line project would need about $900 million in federal construction aid, state officials have said.

“The focus of our conversations will not be to defund the Purple Line,” Burda said.

She noted U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, is a Purple Line supporter.

Instead, Burda said, the town has asked the firm to lobby state and federal officials about the rail proposal’s potential impacts, such as those on nearby homes, the wooded Capital Crescent Trail and the safety of a pedestrian crossing at Lynn Drive.

The town also will urge the Maryland Transit Administration to take a more detailed look at a less expensive bus rapid transit option, officials said.

“We hope we’ll have more productive conversations with MTA if we can put a little pressure on them,” Burda said.

The $350,000 approved Thursday is in addition to the $40,000 already spent and will come from the town’s $8.5 million general fund, said Town Manager Todd Hoffman.

Maryland officials have said they hope to begin construction on a Purple Line in 2015, pending funding.

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Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.
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