UPDATED: Judge orders Purple Line contractors to stay on job until mid-September
State filed lawsuit on Monday amid battle over light-rail project
This story was updated at 9:09 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2020, to include additional background information and a response from a PLTP spokesman.
Purple Line contractors are prohibited from walking off the job at the end of August after a judge issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday.
The order expires on Sept. 14 at 5 p.m. The order was issued in Baltimore City Circuit Court after the Maryland Transit Administration filed a lawsuit on Monday against Purple Line Transit Partners.
The $2 billion Purple Line project, which is planned to be about 16 miles of light rail line, is supposed to extend from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. Several Metrorail lines will be connected in Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton.
The project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, as well as a battle between the state and contractors — Purple Line Transit Constructors — that are threatening to walk away. Purple Line Transit Partners is managing the project.
In a press release on Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Transportation stated that its lawsuit seeks several things, including “the temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction restraining and enjoining PLTP from abandoning the project until it has established that an extended delay exists by and through its compliance with the dispute resolutions procedures.”
The lawsuit follows months of negotiations and daily discussions, the state wrote. It was filed after PLTP and its design-build contractor, Purple Line Transit Constructors, began “demobilization” efforts, or walking away from the work, including clean-up on the project and a notice of intent to begin terminating contracts with subcontractors.
Because PLTC threatened to walk off the job, PLTP also took steps to leave the project. The temporary retraining order is aimed at PLTP.
The transportation department wrote that the action was needed because the state would “suffer immediate, substantial, and irreparable injury” if PLTP is permitted to abandon the project before establishing a contractual right to leave the construction.
All four of the Purple Line contractors’ complaints of project delays and cost overruns are currently being processed through the dispute resolution, the department wrote.
John Undeland, a spokesman for PLTP, declined to comment “because the matter is under litigation.”
The dispute came to a head when PLTC notified PLTP on May 1 that it would leave the job because of delays and cost overruns totaling $519 million. That followed six months of negotiations over the project.
On June 24, PLTC filed a notice to lay off more than 700 employees working on the project if there was no settlement with the state by Aug. 22.
More than a month later, on July 29, PLTP wrote in a letter to the state that it would begin terminating any subcontracts that the state does not “elect for assignment” starting on Aug. 4.
But on Aug. 3, the state asked PLTP to reverse the termination of any subcontracts and “demobilization activities” related to the project. The state also said it would assume management of the project contracts to keep the project moving, but was still committed to reaching an agreement.
Montgomery County Council Member Evan Glass, a member of the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, wrote Tuesday on Twitter that he was glad construction will continue despite the ongoing negotiations.
“Transit riders should not be caught in the middle of the dispute between MDOT and Purple Line contractors,” he wrote. “The [Purple Line] remains a vital project that must be completed as quickly as possible.”
This story will be updated.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.