2021 | Transit

Cost estimate for Purple Line mezzanine project jumps from $2.4 million to $25 million

County official stresses final cost unknown because Bethesda project hasn’t been put out to bid

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This story was updated at 9:05 a.m. Dec. 16, 2021, to include a statement from WMATA.

Construction of a mezzanine to help connect Metro Red Line passengers to a future Purple Line light-rail station in downtown Bethesda is now estimated to cost roughly 10 times as much as anticipated, although a county official cautioned the new price tag is still a rough estimate.

The higher cost of roughly $25 million, first reported by the Washington Post, reflects that the initial estimate was provided to county officials by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) about five years ago, around 2016, according to Maricela Cordova, the county’s Purple Line implementation manager.

In an interview, Cordova said the initial estimate of about $2.4 million was based on “limited information” from WMATA and state officials. She added that the new estimate of $25 million is still not an exact figure because WMATA hasn’t yet solicited construction bids for the mezzanine project at the Metro station on Wisconsin Avenue.

County officials say the county can pay $5 million of the new estimated cost and are hoping state and federal funds would cover the rest. Cordova said the overall budget picture for the project will remain unclear until bids are received. 

The mezzanine project is meant to more easily connect Red Line riders to the Purple Line, Cordova said. An escalator from the subway train platform will connect riders to the mezzanine. From there, a walkway will connect to high-speed elevators, which will take passengers to the street-level Purple Line station, under construction near Elm Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

Courtesy Maryland Transit Administration

Cordova said it is a separate project from the ongoing construction of the 16-mile Purple Line that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. 

“Ideally, the mezzanine would be designed and built so that once the Purple Line is open, it can be immediately connected underground with the Red Line,” she said.

It’s unclear how the cost estimate for the project jumped by such a considerable amount. Cordova hinted that inflation could be a factor.

“As far as the programmatic requirements, nothing has really changed … officials put together a budget based on a planning estimate, and in large programs, this happens, it’s a large piece of work and it changes and evolves,” Cordova said. “And it’s been more than six years since talks have started about when this is going to be built.”

Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) said that despite the estimated increase in cost, county and state officials are still focused on completing all facets of the project.

“The county and the state have made their commitment to the Purple Line and getting it going,” Korman said. “And interconnectivity between the [Metro] station in Bethesda and the Purple Line is an important part of that, so we’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

Ray Feldmann, a Maryland Transit Administration spokesman for the Purple Line, wrote in an email that “WMATA is designing and constructing the Montgomery County-funded Bethesda Metro Mezzanine. Any early estimates would have been completed by WMATA as the project owner.”

“At this time, MTA has not received any request for assistance with funding for this project,” Feldmann added.

Sherri Ly, a spokeswoman for WMATA, provided the following statement to Bethesda Beat about the project:

“Metro is in the process of soliciting the design proposals for the mezzanine at the south entrance connecting to the future MDOT/MTA Purple Line. As such, any estimates are general in nature and it would be premature to provide definitive project costs. Metro is building the mezzanine under an agreement with and funded by the MDOT/MTA Purple Line project. Due to changes in the project timeline and increased costs of construction industry wide, any estimate would need to reflect the actual cost of construction at today’s value. We do not yet have a timeline for construction.”

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com