Updated – 1:20 p.m., Tuesday – Federal funds soon could be flowing to the Purple Line project.
Doug Mayer, chief spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said Monday that Hogan spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Friday and Monday to discuss the project and the “very productive, high level conversations” went well.
Mayer said the state expects the federal full funding grant agreement to be signed in “the very near future.” A signed agreement would allow the state to access the $325 million in federal funds already appropriated for the light-rail project, as well as $900 million over the life of the agreement.
“The Purple Line project will harness the power of the federal, state, county and private sector partners to get a major infrastructure project under construction and create jobs,” Mayer wrote in an email Monday. “It’s a major win for the state and local communities.”
The state was days away from securing the grant agreement with the federal government last August when U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon revoked the project’s federal approval in an ongoing lawsuit.
Leon then ruled this year that the state and Federal Transit Administration need to do a new environmental analysis to determine if Metro’s safety issues and ridership decline would affect the light-rail project.
The state and FTA have appealed. The U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., reinstated the project’s federal approval and set an expedited briefing schedule for the appeal.
By reinstating the Purple Line’s federal approval, state officials have been allowed to renew talks with the federal government to secure the full funding agreement.
The state could formally announce as soon as this week that the agreement has been signed, although Mayer wasn’t certain on the timeline on Monday.
The Washington Post reported late Monday night that a federal transportation spokesman said the deal is expected to be signed next week.
Having the federal money will enable the state to move forward with construction, estimated to cost about $2 billion.
The state partnered with a private team of finance and construction companies—Purple Line Transit Partners—to construct, operate and maintain the light-rail. If built, the line would stretch from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.
The state agreed to pay the team $5.6 billion over the 36-year contract.
The possibility of federal funding being secured for the project would be a big step forward for a project that’s been delayed from starting construction for more than eight months due to the lawsuit.
Supporters have said the favorable appellate court ruling and expedited schedule are a sign that Leon’s ruling for a new environmental analysis, which could take several months, could be overturned.
Maryland U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, who have lobbied for federal funds for the project, welcomed the news that the grant agreement was close to being signed.
“From day one, Team Maryland has been fighting to bring the Purple Line to Maryland, because we know it will strengthen our economy, help combat congestion and air pollution, and improve the lives of families in our state,” Cardin and Van Hollen said in a joint statement. “We have worked with both the Obama and Trump administrations to secure federal funding for this critical transportation project and ensure that it protects the hiker-biker trail and all of the communities along the route. We are pleased that this project is now moving forward and appreciate Department of Transportation Secretary Chao’s efforts to secure the funding.”