2020 | Transit

Federal lawmakers say concerns about Purple Line have ‘grown exponentially’

Letter to governor urges negotiation with consortium, transition of project to state

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Federal lawmakers have called on Gov. Larry Hogan to keep the Purple Line project on track after the consortium constructing the light-rail line prepares to leave the job .

In a letter to Hogan on Wednesday, Maryland’s two U.S. senators and seven of its eight representatives said they have “deep concern” about the future of the Purple Line.

Those concerns have only “grown exponentially” as the project’s manager, Purple Line Transit Partners, plans to stop working on the line soon. PLTP has begun to demobilize and secure the construction sites in preparation for handing over the project to the state.

“Given the importance and size of this project, we urge you to use this time to negotiate with PLTP and, at the same time, continue making the necessary arrangements to transition the project to [the Maryland Department of Transportation] if a settlement is not reached,” the lawmakers’ letter says. “It is imperative to find a path forward as these delays mean that Maryland residents are the ones that suffer.”

The Purple Line would stretch for about 16 miles from Bethesda to New Carrollton with 21 stations.

The crumbling of the public-private partnership behind the project can be traced to years of cost overruns and project delays, and disputes over both.

Negotiations took a turn when the Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC), the design-build contractors under PLTP, notified PLTP on May 1 that it would leave the job because of the disputes.

The Maryland Transit Administration filed a lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court in August. A temporary restraining order was granted to keep workers on the job through Sept. 14.

But on Sept. 10, Judge Jeffrey Geller ruled that the contractors could abandon the project, leaving the state to find another contractor or complete the construction on its own.

The project has received $900 million in federal funding. But with project delays, the state’s working relationship and future federal funding with the Federal Transit Administration, which provided the federal grant, could be harmed, the lawmakers said in their letter.

The Purple Line construction has also caused “significant disruption” to the communities surrounding it, according to the letter.

“Any additional delay in the completion of the project will only exacerbate the burdens being experienced by both residential communities and commercial enterprises situated in close proximity to the construction sites,” the lawmakers said.

Greg Slater, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said in a statement sent to Bethesda Beat Thursday afternoon that the state recognizes the importance of keeping the project’s momentum going.

The department and Maryland Transit Administration are working to negotiate with PLTP, while also setting up a plan to complete the project on its own, according to Slater.

State officials are also working with design, construction and manufacturing contractors to keep the project moving, he said.

“Our focus is on completing design, permitting and any unfinished work first with paving, stormwater drainage and other utility projects now underway along the Purple Line corridor,” he said in the statement. “We remain committed to continue working with the community and local businesses to collaborate and find opportunities to minimize any impacts to the best of our ability.”

The letter to Hogan was signed by Maryland’s nine Democratic senators and representatives — Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin, and David Trone.

Rep. Andrew Harris, a Republican, did not sign the letter.

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, wrote in a statement to Bethesda Beat Thursday evening that the governor’s office appreciates getting letters from congressional members.

“This one seems to indicate they are not fully up to speed on things, but we will make sure they receive a full technical update,” he wrote. “We are making good progress on the Purple Line, as well as all of our critical infrastructure projects across the state.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.