Light-rail opponents questioned closely by appellate panel

September 25, 1990|By Doug Birch | Doug Birch,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON -- A three-judge federal appeals court panel aimed hard questions yesterday at the Robert E. Lee Park Defense Fund's request for an injunction to halt the state's construction of the 27.5-mile Baltimore light-rail line.

Chief Judge Patricia M. Wald and the two other U.S. Court of Appeals judges, hearing oral arguments, repeatedly questioned the assertion of the park group's lawyer that a federal environmental-impact statement is required for the entire $446 million mass transit project even though only two small segments will be built with federal money.

"Isn't there a federalism problem here?" asked Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The state is financing construction of a 22.4-mile segment of the rail line between Timonium and Glen Burnie.

Two shorter segments, one extending to Hunt Valley and the other to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, are being built with federal money.

By law, environmental-impact statements are required for certain federally financed projects. Normally, such studies are not required for state-financed construction.

Joseph J. McGovern, a Philadelphia attorney representing the Robert E. Lee Park Defense Fund, told the court that by splitting the project into three segments -- rather than applying federal money to the entire 27.5-mile project -- the state had tried to evade federal environmental laws.

Last year, a U.S. District Court judge refused to grant the park group a preliminary injunction against construction of the rail line.

Carmen M. Shepard, a lawyer for the state, said Maryland officials structured the light-rail construction program to avoid "federalizing" it because of the delays that would have resulted.

But she said the 22.4-mile segment was legitimately separated from the overall project, because it is being built faster than the federally financed portions and could operate without them.

The panel will issue its decision later, possibly within a month.

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