Case Law Updates on the Environment (CLUE)
Case Law Update Details
Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail v. FTA
U.S. District Court - Washington DC
The Purple Line is a proposed 16.2-mile light rail transit project in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland. The Purple Line would be owned and operated by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). The Purple Line would connect at four stations to Metrorail, a heavy-rail subway system that is owned and operated by a separate entity, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). The FTA and MTA projected that approximately 27% of Purple Line riders would use Metrorail as part of their trip. The agencies prepared an EIS for the project, and FTA issued a ROD on March 19, 2014. The plaintiffs submitted a letter on October 9, 2015, requesting that the agencies prepare an SEIS for the Purple Line for multiple reasons, including Metrorail’s declining ridership and recent safety issues. MTA and FTA responded that an SEIS was not warranted because Metrorail was a separate system and its ridership, safety, and financial issues had no relationship to the environmental impacts of the Purple Line.
Plaintiffs brought a number of NEPA claims against the agencies. In this order, the court considered only the agencies’ decision not to prepare an SEIS based on declining Metrorail ridership and recent safety issues. The court held that the declining ridership and safety issues called the Purple Line ridership forecasts into question and were conditions that warranted an SEIS. The court vacated the ROD and remanded to the agencies for preparation of an SEIS that considered updated ridership projections. The court reserved judgment on all other issues. (In a subsequent decision, issued on November 22, 2016, the court modified its order to allow FTA to determine whether the Metrorail safety and ridership issues required an SEIS.
Supplementation. In arguing for the agencies to prepare an SEIS, the plaintiffs noted that Metrorail ridership had declined every year since 2009, which was the year after the Draft EIS had been issued. The plaintiffs also cited recent safety incidents that called into question future Metrorail ridership projections. The court noted that the plaintiffs had raised this concern in their October 2015 letter to FTA, and found that FTA and MTA provided only a “barebones explanation” of their basis for concluding that the Metrorail issues did not require an SEIS. The court also took notice of “recent extraordinary events involving seemingly endless Metrorail breakdowns and safety issues,” including events that occurred after the date of FTA’s decision not to prepare an SEIS. The court concluded that the agencies “wholly failed to evaluate the significance” of Metrorail’s declining ridership and recent safety issues. The court explained: “While it is true that WMATA is a distinct entity from MTA, . . . this does not provide a rational basis for defendants’ summary conclusion that a decline in ridership thereon has no effect on the Purple Line, given that the previous projections estimated over one quarter of Purple Line riders would use the WMATA Metrorail as part of their trip.” The court held that an SEIS was required because changed conditions since the initial EIS provided a “seriously different picture” of the project’s environmental impacts. (In a November 22, 2016 decision, the court modified this order to give FTA an opportunity to determine whether the Metrorail safety and ridership issues require an SEIS.)