State officials' assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed Purple Line through suburban Washington satisfies federal environmental standards, the Federal Transit Administration announced this week — an important green light for the project to proceed.
The federal clearance is required for federal funding to be spent on the project, as planned, and gives state officials more confidence to begin the long task of acquiring land in the proposed transit line's right-of-way, officials said.
It also "sends an important signal" to other stakeholders in the project, including companies vying to work on it through a public-private partnership with the state, said Henry Kay, the Maryland Transit Administration's executive director for transit development and delivery.
"People need to do a substantial amount of work proposing to be our partner, and their confidence in the fact that there will eventually be a project is important," Kay said.
The state put forward its Final Environmental Impact Statement, the document just approved, in August after substantial studies on a broad range of issues and public input, officials said.
Officials consider everything from noise pollution to the potential for human remains or other objects of archaeological importance being discovered once construction begins.
Kay said while the federal approval is an important step, "much remains in terms of actually implementing the mitigation" outlined in the state's environmental plans.
The 16.2-mile light rail line, estimated to cost $2.371 billion, would run between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George's County. It would have 21 stations total and pass through the University of Maryland, College Park campus and multiple wooded areas, including near the popular Capital Crescent Trail.
Some of the strongest environmental concerns have come from users of the trail, though the state's plans say efforts will be made to mitigate impact. The plans also say the existing trail was always a temporary alignment for a regional amenity officials knew would have to be changed as transit needs grew.
Beyond wooded areas, the transit line will also impact hundreds of properties.
The state will have to acquire approximately 70 acres of land, including 67 full properties and parts of another 321 properties, according to the FTA's "Record of Decision" approving the environmental plans.
The full-property acquisitions will displace 60 commercial tenants, 53 residential tenants and three institutions.
The Obama Administration has proposed funding the Purple Line with an initial $100 million in the upcoming fiscal year. It has proposed the same amount for the planned Red Line in Baltimore, which received its own environmental green light early last year.