2020 | Transportation

UPDATED: Purple Line contractors can abandon project, judge rules

Contractors will be allowed to walk off on Monday at 5 p.m.

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A Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge ruled Thursday afternoon that a the contractors for the light rail Purple Line will be allowed to leave the project

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This story was updated at 6:57 p.m. on Sept. 10, 2020 to include comments from Purple Line Transit Partners, the Maryland Department of Transportation and Council Member Evan Glass

A Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge ruled on Thursday afternoon that the contractors for the light rail Purple Line will be allowed to walk off the job at 5 p.m. on Monday.

The ruling, issued by Judge Jeffrey Geller, means that the state might have to complete the light rail line itself or find another contractor.

The 16-mile, 21-station Purple Line is a public-private partnership between the Maryland Transit Administration and Purple Line Transit Partners, the consortium in charge of constructing and operating the project.

The line, when completed, will connect Bethesda to New Carrollton. Many stops will connect riders will Metro as well as MARC commuter rail.

The state has been in a dispute with PLTP over project delays and cost overruns.

Purple Line Transit Constructors, the design-build contractors for the $2 billion project, told Purple Line Transit Partners on May 1 that it would leave the job because of project delays and cost overruns of $519 million.

The next month, PLTC notified the state that it would lay off more than 700 workers if it couldn’t reach a settlement with MTA.

MTA filed a lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court in August, and a judge issued a temporary restraining order that keeps the workers on the job through Sept. 14.

In addition to the temporary restraining order, MTA sought 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,” MTA said in a press release last month.

According to court documents filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court, PLTP has argued that it has an unconditional right to terminate its agreement with the state on the basis of an extended delay.

In his ruling on Thursday, Geller stated that there were a number of criteria the state needed to show in order to win the injunction, among which were that the contractors quitting would lead to “irreparable harm.” That criterion and others, he said, were not met.

Geller also cited a number of past comments from state transportation officials that they intend to complete the Purple Line regardless of whether PLTP completes its work.

The Purple Line was originally scheduled to be completed in 2022.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that if the contractors are allowed to leave, the state would take over the project or find a new contractor, resulting in delays of up to 2 years.

John Undeland, a PLTP spokesman, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat Thursday night that the consortium wishes that the dispute didn’t have to go to court. Despite the outcome, he wrote that PLTP is open to reaching a settlement “if the state chooses to engage in meaningful settlement discussions.”

“Notwithstanding the litigation, we remain convinced that a settlement is in the best interest of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as the state, because it will deliver the Purple Line sooner and at lower cost than any possible alternative,” he wrote.

Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation, wrote in an email Thursday night that the agency disputes PLTP’s right to terminate the partnership, and will work with the consortium “on an orderly transition.”

“MDOT and MTA remain committed to both completing the project and protecting the state’s interests,” she wrote.

County Council Member Evan Glass wrote on Twitter Thursday that he was disappointed in the outcome of the hearing.

“Now we must ensure that the MD Dept of Transportation completes the PL as quickly s possible under its own management. The PL is vital for economic development and the environment,” he wrote.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com