It may have never seemed possible 10 years ago, but on Thursday night in Silver Spring a man told community members his company would be responsible for building the 16-mile light-rail Purple Line.
Herb Morgan, a senior vice president for the Fluor Corporation, the construction firm that’s part of the Purple Line Transit Partners concessionaire team, spoke to community members for the first time in Maryland, about two months after the state’s Board of Public Works formally approved the concessionaire’s $5.6 billion, 36-year contract with the state to build and operate the line from Bethesda to New Carrollton.
“We’re here for the long haul, we’re here for 36 years, we’re going to be a part of the community for that duration,” Morgan said as he took the podium in front of more than 100 people at the meeting at the Silver Spring Civic Center. “Safety and quality are our top priorities. This is an introduction for us all tonight—you’re meeting us for the first time, we’re meeting you for the first time.”
The moment was more than a decade in the making. The controversial project has faced lawsuits and the wrath of affected homeowners after first being proposed during the Parris Glendening administration in the early 2000s. It was cast into doubt and nearly turned into a bus rapid transit line by the Robert Ehrlich administration before being resurrected as a light rail-line by Gov. Martin O’Malley and later being formally approved by Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this year.
Morgan said the team building the line, which in addition to Fluor includes the construction companies Lane and Traylor Bros., will place an emphasis on minimizing construction and operating noise. He said the companies will use construction equipment with low-audible back-up alarms and some of the newest earth moving equipment, and will utilize the power grid as often as possible to eliminate the need for noisy generators.
His introduction to the community wasn’t exactly smooth—a woman in the back of the meeting interrupted him, screaming about “the children,” unsettling the room. After she stopped, he continued speaking.
Later on during the meeting, Morgan told Bethesda Beat his company recently completed building the 23-mile electric Eagle light-rail line in Denver, the first public-private partnership transit project in the United States. He said that project was completed on-time—and cost overruns were kept at a minimum since the construction team would have been held financially responsible under its contract with the state of Colorado—one that’s similar to Maryland’s contract with the concessionaire.
Morgan said the Denver project was slightly different than the Purple Line proposal in that it was built on a dedicated rail line, whereas the Purple Line will be creating its own path through urban centers such as Silver Spring. However, he said Fluor dealt with similar high-density construction pathways as part of its work on Los Angeles’s Expo light-rail line.
The community meeting also served as an opportunity for state transit officials to review the plan for the station planned to be built at Wayne Avenue and Dale Drive, which would be located in front of the Silver Spring International Middle School.
A rendering of the Dale Drive Purple Line station in front of the Silver Spring International Middle School. Via MTA
Mike Madden, the deputy Purple Line project director for the Maryland Transit Administration, detailed plans to build the light-rail line down the center of Wayne Avenue, with the Dale Drive station platform surrounded by the eastbound and westbound lanes of Wayne Ave.
He said left turn lanes will be added at Cedar Street and Manchester Road and on westbound Dale Drive. The changes to Wayne Avenue will create a five-lane road near the station—to add dedicated left turn lanes in each direction—where there’s currently a four-lane road.
A diagram showing the Dale Drive intersection via MTA.
Matt Stork, a traffic engineer with MTA, said two through lanes were needed to accommodate rush hour traffic, hence why the left turn lane in each direction is being added in the design. He said motorists in the Wayne Avenue left turn lanes at Dale Drive will only be allowed to turn on a dedicated left-turn signal to prevent collisions between the train and other motorists who may be screened by the train.
To provide an example of the danger of making an illegal left-turn at the intersection, MTA provided an animation showing a car trying to make the turn in front of the train, only to collide with a car hidden behind the train that the motorist couldn’t see.
“If illegal lefts are made, it’s unprotected,” Stork said.
Madden said trees along Wayne would be replaced on a “caliper-by-caliper” basis, meaning if a tree with a 2-inch circumference trunk is removed, it would be replaced with another tree with a 2-inch circumference.
Fluor officials also assured residents the team is hiring a landscape architect to beautify the streetscape once construction is completed.
The meeting wasn’t without controversy. The woman who was screaming during Morgan’s introductory remarks also screamed during parts of Madden’s presentation and during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, when residents mostly asked questions about overhead catenary wires that power the trains, speed limits, traffic calming and landscaping near the station.
At one point, a frustrated Madden said, “Will someone get her a cookie?”
The woman replied, “I’m going to need 1,000 cookies for all the children.”