- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - The Purple Line light rail will help fix Metro’s service issues by increasing ridership, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in an interview at the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday.

Hogan, a Republican, and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, met in Bethesda to discuss Metro safety and performance issues as well as Maryland economy and politics.

Hogan and Franchot spoke of their support for the Purple Line - a project that will connect Metrorail’s green, orange and red lines through 21 stations.

Ridership on the regional subway system has decreased in recent years, along with revenues, as safety and reliability concerns have risen.

“It is going to increase ridership in Metro because it is going to link all of these places together,” Hogan said. “Our investment in the Purple Line is going to do a lot to turn Metro around.”

After initial doubts, Hogan approved the 16-mile light rail project in March.

“I was skeptical,” Hogan said. “It is a big expense.”

The Purple Line, which will run through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, is expected to cost about $5.6 billion. Maryland is expected to pay about $3.3 billion of this cost over three and a half decades, according to state officials.

But the Purple Line’s progress is at a stalemate after a Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in August for the Federal Transit Administration to perform additional studies on the project. His decision put $900 million in federal funding for the project on hold.

Leon ordered a more thorough look into Metro’s ridership and reliability. In his ruling, the judge said he could not turn a blind eye to “seemingly endless Metrorail breakdowns and safety issues.” He said the FTA must review the potential effect of Metro’s issues on future Purple Line ridership.

“It is outrageous,” Franchot said Friday. “It is embarrassing quite frankly because the case is so flimsy.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has filed motions for the judge to reconsider his decision on the Purple Line.

The additional studies and halted progress have costly consequences, according to Greg Sanders, vice president of advocacy group Purple Line Now.

Sanders said each month of delay costs about $13 million. But he also said progress other than construction will continue.

“All of the engineering is still taking place,” Hogan said. “All the acquisitions are still taking place.”

Hogan and Franchot said they hope the light rail will be built as soon as possible.

“We are talking about our transit system, which is crucial to our citizens,” Franchot said. “This project really needs to go forward.”

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