2021 | Transit

New contractor selected for Purple Line light rail project

Maryland Transit Solutions chosen over two other finalists

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Graphic from Purple Line Transit Partners

This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. Nov. 5, 2021, to include comments from Del. Marc Korman.

State officials and the operator of a proposed light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton have selected a contractor to finish the project.

In a news release Friday, the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Administration and Purple Line Transit Partners — the consortium that will operate the 16-mile, 21-station Purple Line, with stops from Bethesda to New Carrollton — announced Maryland Transit Solutions as the contractor to finish the project.

A choice on the final contractor was expected earlier this year, but state officials gave the final three bidders more time to put together their proposals. Those bidders were Maryland Transit Solutions, Halmar International and Tutor-Perini/Lunda (a joint venture).

Maryland Transit Solutions is made up of Dragados USA Inc. and OHL USA Inc., which Purple Line Transit Partners said offered “the best value.” 

According to the news release, the Board of Public Works — the state board that approves large construction contracts — is expected to agree to new financing and commercial terms in February 2022. Full-scale construction is anticipated to resume in the spring.

Purple Line Transit Partners touted Dragados’ work on the $2.4 billion Los Angeles International Airport Automated People Mover and three light rail projects in Canada with a combined value of $5.5 billion.

It’s unclear when the entire Purple Line would be completed and open for operation. It initially was scheduled to begin operating in March 2022, but The Washington Post reported in September that the project was at least two-and-a-half years behind schedule, according to a previous contractor that quit. 

The state in December 2020 settled for $250 million with previous contractors, ending litigation and years of disputes about project delays and cost overruns.

Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) — who chairs a Transportation and the Environment Subcommittee within the House’s Appropriations Committee — said in an interview that Friday’s news was good, but questions remain.

“I’ll say it is a positive step forward to get this back on track, but we still don’t know the true costs and the timetable, and those are pretty important issues,” Korman said.

John Undeland, a spokesman for Purple Line Transit Partners, could not immediately be reached for comment by phone Friday.

County Council President Tom Hucker, chair of the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, also could not immediately be reached for comment by phone Friday.

County Executive Marc Elrich was also not immediately available for comment by phone Friday.

Elrich and council members previously disagreed on whether to single-track the Purple Line in a downtown Bethesda tunnel. Earlier this year, state officials denied the request, citing logistical changes and the need for federal approval for that change to occur.

“Our federal partners are not in favor of a change that diminishes operational capacity and flexibility, and discussions have touched on several regulatory and funding risks associated with the proposed reconfiguration,” Maryland Secretary of Transportation Greg Slater wrote in a letter to Elrich, Montgomery County Transportation Director Chris Conklin, County Council members and others.

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