Most significant is the budget document signaling that the project’s full funding grant agreement (FFGA) still could be signed — the last hurdle in the Purple Line receiving $900 million in critical federal grants. Maryland officials have said they can’t afford the line’s $2 billion construction without federal aid.
The Trump administration has said it will fund only projects with “existing” funding agreements. Congress appropriates money to transit projects — the Purple Line already has $325 million appropriated — but state and local officials can’t access that money until the FTA signs a funding agreement. That document, which requires projects to meet certain planning and engineering standards over many years, details how much money the federal government will commit during each year of construction.
The report released Wednesday says, “The Maryland National Capital Purple Line FFGA remains under review due to pending litigation.”
The fact that the FFGA remains “under review” indicates that the FTA is still considering it for federal funding, despite the fact that it doesn’t have an “existing” funding agreement.
The big question: How long will the Purple Line remain stalled by a federal lawsuit alleging that its environmental impact study was flawed?
Maryland was five days away from securing an FFGA for the Purple Line in August when a court order in the lawsuit made it ineligible for federal aid, and the project suffered a significant legal setback Monday.
The state has been asking U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon to restore the project’s environmental approval, which he revoked in August. The state needs that approval to get a signed FFGA. However, in a ruling Monday, Leon said the state needed to redo the Purple Line’s ridership forecasts, saying it hadn’t sufficiently factored in potential impacts from Metro’s safety problems and declining ridership.
The Purple Line will be operated separately from Metro, but about a quarter of its passengers are expected to be people transferring to and from the Metro system.
Maryland officials have said they can begin construction on the line within a few weeks of having the environmental approval restored and the federal money in hand.
How much money will be available for the Purple Line in fiscal 2018 is unclear. The FTA is requesting $111.7 million for the “other projects that may become ready for funding.” That also includes a California project to electrify trains on a Caltrain line between San Francisco and San Jose. The FTA said Monday it would sign the FFGA on the California project shortly.