The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Montgomery grants legal approval to build Purple Line on county-owned land

Montgomery County granted legal permission Tuesday for the Maryland Transit Administration to build and operate a light-rail Purple Line on county-owned land.

The state recently won a major court victory that allowed it to begin building the 16-mile rail line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties while a lawsuit opposing the proposal continues. However, Maryland officials have said they won’t start construction until, or unless, the state secures $900 million in recommended federal grants for the more than $2 billion project.

Court ruling clears way for Purple Line construction to begin

The county council’s staff recommended that the panel approve the agreement before its seven-week summer break. The timing of the vote signals that state officials are moving quickly to get the project ready for construction, perhaps as early as September, depending on when, or if, the federal funding is approved.

The 70-year franchise agreement allows the state to build, operate and maintain parts of the light-rail line on county-owned property. Most of the land is in the line’s western three-mile segment, along the wooded Georgetown Branch recreational trail between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring.

The county bought the strip of land from a freight railroad in 1988 to preserve for a transitway. The recreational trail will be rebuilt alongside the train tracks, though most of the trees will be cut down, according to state plans.

The county did not ask the state to pay for the land, saying in the agreement that it “recognizes that the Purple Line provides valuable benefits to county residents.”

The agreement can be extended for two additional 25-year periods. The county can terminate it if the state stops operating the Purple Line for three consecutive years.