2021 | Transit

Purple Line design-build contractor selection moved to fall

Choice initially expected in June

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Graphic from Purple Line Transit Partners

As the Purple Line continues to wait for a design-build contractor to finish the job, state officials are working on utility relocation and other work for the project.

Greg Slater, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said at a panel with Purple Line NOW, a coalition that supports the project, on Tuesday night that the timeline for choosing a design-build contractor was moved to the fall. The decision was initially scheduled to happen in June.

The 16-mile, 21-station Purple Line will stretch from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

Slater said the three short-listed firms are putting together their proposals, taking tours of the line’s path, and digging into the designs.

The teams, which were short-listed in early March, have been given more time to put together their proposals. The bidders are: Halmar International, Maryland Transit Solutions (made up of Dragados USA Inc. and OHL USA Inc.), and Tutor-Perini/Lunda (a joint venture).

“After some feedback from the teams that we’ve received over the last couple weeks as they’re in there and really kind of digging in, we needed to give those bidders just a little more time to evaluate the design and completion,” Slater said. “We just granted them a couple more weeks. … The more they can understand about what’s being built and the design, we get that better value on the backend.”

The big question remains: When will the Purple Line be finished?

Doran Bosso, CEO of Purple Line Transit Partners, said the schedule isn’t known yet. PLTP is the consortium which will operate the line.

“We will be evaluating proposals based on the schedule we get. It’s also not a matter of who can tell us they can get to the finish line the fastest,” he said. “It’s more in depth than that. We want a reasonable, believable, well thought out, achievable schedule, so that the community … can plan with some degree of certainty when the Purple Line will be open.”

In mid-December, the state approved a $250 million settlement over the litigation with the project’s contractors, ending years of disputes about project delays and cost overruns.

The project, which is being completed under a public-private partnership, previously had three companies involved: Meridiam, Star America and Fluor.

Contractors walked off the job in September after initially indicating they would abandon the project in May. Fluor, which was in charge of the line’s construction, exited the project, but Meridiam and Star America are still working with the state to complete the line.

Bosso said he doesn’t “recommend what happened to this project ever, ever again. I hope I never have to go through it, but if there’s anything that we’ve built, it’s a very strong partnership.”

“We will be assisting [the design-build contractor] with coming up to speed in every way we can to get construction working swiftly again,” he said.

When asked if the COVID-19 pandemic would affect ridership on the Purple Line once it’s open, Slater said he didn’t believe public transportation hesitancy would be a long-term issue.

“I think by the time the Purple Line is online, we are going to be much closer back to kind of where we were pre-pandemic,” he said.

The state is working to build ridership confidence across the state’s transit systems to help people feel more comfortable about using public transit again, he said.

The state recently opposed the idea of single tracking at the end of the line through Bethesda to allow for pedestrians in the tunnel.

Matt Pollack, executive director of the Maryland Transit Administration, said that the state looked at five elements: physical integration, operational integration, safety and security, costs, and federal approvals.

“We talked mainly, really, about the physical integration. If you were to stand out there and take a look at the trainway, it would certainly appear that the Capital Crescent Trail could fit physically in there with the trains. However, you have to dig into the way we’re working the design.”

For a large portion of that trainway, there will be overhead equipment and jet fans for emergency ventilation. The equipment is not being directly attached to the ceiling of the tunnel.

There will be a gantry system, which requires equipment to hang off of it, instead. The vertical clearance prevents the proper and safe integration of the trail, Pollack said.

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