By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory affairs & assistant general counsel, ARTBA

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and state of Maryland Nov. 1 asked a federal appeals court judge to overturn a lower court ruling related to the 16-mile Purple Line light-rail transit line in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. At issue is an August 2016 ruling that the FTA failed to consider declining ridership on the region’s Metro transit system in its environmental analysis of the $6 billion public-private partnership (P3) project.

Attorneys for the FTA and Maryland told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that there was no obligation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to consider Metro ridership. They also noted that the analysis that was done covered numerous ridership scenarios to justify the project.

The attorney for the anti-growth, Purple Line opponents called the transit project “environmentally destructive” and urged the court to require even more study.

In an Aug. 23 amicus brief supporting the FTA and Maryland, ARTBA said the lower court ruling is an abuse of NEPA and poses risks for the future of P3s in transportation improvement projects.

Such impacts, ARTBA warned, could jeopardize renewed bipartisan congressional focus on the nation’s infrastructure, which the association notes is “in disrepair and in desperate need of substantial upgrades.”  It could also undercut Trump administration efforts to improve the timeliness of the environmental review process.

The Purple Line has been tied up in court since 2014, but some preliminary work on the project began earlier this year. It is hoped the appeals court will issue its decision before the new year.