2022 | Transit

State panel approves new contracts for Purple Line project

Light-rail line now expected to open in late 2026

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Maryland Transit Administration

This story was updated at 5:45 p.m., Jan. 26, 2022, to clarify details of the public-private partnership.

A state panel unanimously green-lighted multiple contracts on Wednesday to continue planning and construction of the Purple Line light-rail project. 

The Purple Line is a 16-mile, 21-station light-rail project that will run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. In November, state officials selected a new contractor, after cost overruns and disputes with a previous contractor led to numerous delays.

One large contract the state Board of Public Works approved on Wednesday modifies the public-private partnership with Purple Line Transit Partners, the consortium now aiming to finish the project. 

The original contract amount in 2016 — which includes construction, operations and maintenance and many other costs — was around $5.6 billion. The new revised amount is around $9.3 billion, which includes a $250 million settlement to resolve cost overruns and other disputes with the previous contractor.

The new contractor, Purple Line Transit Partners, would build and operate the line over a 30-year contract.

Earlier this month, Maryland Transit Administration officials submitted a report to the Maryland General Assembly, noting that the project would not begin carrying passengers until late 2026.

According to a Maryland Department of Transportation news release, part of the $9.3 billion public-private partnership includes a design-build cost of $3.4 billion. 

The $3.4 billion is up $1.4 billion from a previous estimate of $2 billion for the design-build cost component of the project.

On Wednesday, Holly Arnold, head of the Maryland Transit Administration, and Matt Pollack, executive director of the Purple Line project, briefed the Board of Public Works about why there were cost increases, including rising material costs, a smaller labor force, increasing insurance costs and material shortages.

The Board of Public Works — consisting of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Dereck Davis —approves large state contracts.

Franchot and Hogan on Wednesday criticized the “anti-transit activists” who filed lawsuits against the project years ago, delaying initial construction.

Hogan added that the state terminated its contract with the previous contractor because officials felt they were being price gouged.

Franchot asked what the fares would be for the Purple Line when it opens. Arnold said it’s too soon to say, but they will not deviate much from fares for WMATA, MTA and other transit agencies across the Washington, D.C., region.

Pollack said that to avoid project delays and problems in the future, there needs to be communication between all levels of people working on a project, beyond just senior management.

Communication should include construction officials and their oversight team, quality control and their oversight team, and others in similar roles, he added.

“We may have different reasons to get to that common goal, but there is that common goal of trying to build the Purple Line,” Pollack said.

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