Purple Line Likely Won’t Open in Montgomery County Until 2023
Project will start up in two phases, officials say
Crews work at the Manchester Place station in Silver Spring, one of the most active sites of Purple Line construction.
Purple Line officials are planning a staggered debut for the 16-mile light-rail line, with some tracks slated to open by the end of 2022 and full service planned by April 2023.
None of those first tracks are expected to open in Montgomery County.
The news disappointed some county councilmembers, who met with Purple Line officials on Thursday for a semiannual update on the project.
“I appreciate the information that it won’t all open at the same time, but I was hoping for more progress in Montgomery County,” Councilmember Evan Glass said at the meeting.
But work in Montgomery is slower than in other counties, officials explained, especially in heavily urban areas like Bethesda and Silver Spring where construction competes with pre-existing roads, utilities, and other commuter rail tracks.
“You just have a lot more interaction with these complex structures,” said Charles Lattuca, the executive director of transit development and delivery with the Maryland Transit Administration. “We’re committed to a full opening in 2023. But we can’t predict when tracks will open in Montgomery County.”
By necessity, those first tracks will open in Prince George’s County, where the rail yard and maintenance facility for the light-rail line are located.
The two-part opening was the biggest update from the briefing, which also included progress reports on construction across Montgomery County. The Manchester Place station in Silver Spring is one of the most active work sites, and crews are finalizing construction on the Plymouth Tunnel, said Peter van der Waart, the new CEO of Purple Line Transit Partners.
The tunnel has been fully excavated and workers are waterproofing the structure. Crews plan to place a lid on the tunnel by early next year, he added.
The south entrance of the Bethesda Station on Elm Street, another active construction site, is inching closer to completion. Crews are pouring the walls for a planned Purple Line station, and the facility is expected to fully reopen by 2022.
Meanwhile, work is just beginning at the Silver Spring Transit Center, where workers are beginning to build the foundations of an aerial structure that will transport Purple Line trains over the main building. The construction shut down permanent bus stops in the area, but Purple Line officials are overseeing temporary bus stops and traffic control around the site, van der Waart said.
The company has also committed to adding 55 new trees along Wayne Avenue in Silver Spring. Residents in the area have been concerned about tree removal since the start of construction, when it became clear that more trees would be removed in the area than originally anticipated.
“That’s exciting to hear,” Councilmember Tom Hucker said at the meeting. The Montgomery County Department of Transportation also plans to allocate resources toward tree replanting.
Despite the updates, Glass said he was disappointed that van der Waart and Lattuca couldn’t provide more specifics on the financing of the project. In January, The Washington Post reported that the Purple Line was at least $215 million over budget and that construction had been delayed by nearly a year.
A lawsuit against the project slowed work early on, and the state is still negotiating with Purple Line Transit Partners over how much each will have to pay for construction delays, Lattuca said.