Purple Line: The Forced Closure of a Popular Trail Incites Mixed Responses

By Leigh Ratino, Staff Contributor

The Purple Line is a 16.2-mile light rail line that will connect the suburbs of Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton.[1] Since it was introduced, the Purple Line has sparked public support and opposition.

The project is a top transportation priority in Maryland as it will enable riders to access Metrorail green and orange lines and both branches of the red line without having to ride into Washington, D.C. The Purple Line will also connect to all three MARC lines, Amtrak, and local bus services.[2]

Unfortunately, the project has forced the closure of a popular three-mile section of the Capital Crescent Trail.[3] The trail, which is heavily used by the local community, will be closed for four to five years while the Purple Line is constructed.[4]

The leading opponents of the Purple Line, the Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and two Maryland residents, filed a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) suit against the Maryland Department of Transportation, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Department of Transportation in August 2014. The plaintiffs assert that the Purple Line is “massively costly, highly controversial and environmentally destructive.”[5]

Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that Maryland’s environmental impact study failed to adequately account for the negative effects the construction will have on migratory birds and two crustaceans – the Hay’s Spring amphipod and the Kenk’s amphipod – one of which is currently listed as an endangered species.[6] The plaintiffs also argued that the environmental impact study used overly optimistic metro ridership numbers and did not account for the many problems the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is currently experiencing.[7]

The defendants maintain that their environmental impact studies are sufficient and the delays in starting the project have cost them more than $13 million a month.[8]

In August 2016, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon revoked approval of the project and held that a supplemental environmental impact statement was necessary to determine whether problems with the WMATA will affect Purple Line ridership.[9] In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reinstated the Purple Line’s approval, allowing the state to secure $900 million in federal grants and begin project construction.[10] Meanwhile, both the defendants and the plaintiffs are appealing Judge Leon’s decision.[11] If construction continues as scheduled, the Purple Line will be open by summer 2022.[12]


[1] Purple Line Project Overview, Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Administration, http://www.purplelinemd.com/en/about-the-project/project-overview (last visited Nov. 16, 2017).

[2] Id.

[3] The Purple Line, Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, http://savethetrail.org/who-we-are/the-purple-line-2/ (last visited Nov. 16, 2017).

[4] Katherine Shaver, Georgetown Branch Trail closes for Purple Line construction, Wash. Post (Sept. 5, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2017/09/05/georgetown-branch-trail-closes-for-purple-line-construction/?utm_term=.3df63e7ffbda.

[5] Linda Chiem, Transit Officials Can Mull Redo Of Purple Line Enviro Review, Law360 (Nov. 22, 2016), https://www.law360.com/articles/865550/transit-officials-can-mull-redo-of-purple-line-enviro-review.

[6] Katherine Shaver, Judge dismisses most of lawsuit against Purple Line, but ridership estimate must still be redone, Wash. Post. (May 30, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/dr-gridlock/wp/2017/05/30/judges-dismisses-most-of-lawsuit-against-purple-line-but-ridership-estimates-must-still-be-redone/?utm_term=.14baf48e4f1d.

[7] Melissa Daniels, DC Metro Concerns Merit Purple Line Re-Review, Judge Says, Law360 (Aug. 3, 2016), https://www.law360.com/articles/824836/dc-metro-concerns-merit-purple-line-re-review-judge-says.

[8] Shaver, supra note 6.

[9] Daniels, supra note 7.

[10] Katherine Shaver, Court ruling paves way for Purple Line construction to begin, Wash. Post (July 19, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/court-ruling-paves-way-for-purple-line-construction-to-begin/2017/07/19/7391c8fc-6cb7-11e7-b9e2-2056e768a7e5_story.html?utm_term=.167abe9c0e0a.

[11] Andrew Metcalf, Federal Appeals Court Sets Expedited Schedule for Purple Line Lawsuit, Bethesda Mag. (Aug. 7, 2017), http://www.bethesdamagazine.com/Bethesda-Beat/2017/Federal-Appeals-Court-Sets-Expedited-Schedule-for-Purple-Line-Lawsuit/.

[12] Max Smith, 3-judge panel hears arguments over Purple Line environmental delay, WTOP (Nov. 1, 2017), https://wtop.com/tracking-metro-24-7/2017/11/promising-appeals-court-arguments-purple-line-supporters/.