2020 | Transportation

State still negotiating with Purple Line contractors to keep them on the job

County officials say state needs to be more transparent

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Logo from Purple Line Transit Partners

It’s been three weeks since Purple Line contractors announced that they would leave the $2 billion project because of delays and cost overruns. State officials said Thursday they are in daily communication and negotiations with the construction firms in order to keep the job going.

Greg Slater, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation, told the Montgomery County Council on Thursday that work is still being completed on the project as settlement negotiations are continuing. Gov. Larry Hogan is monitoring and checking in on negotiations, he said.

Slater said he has had “productive” conversations with the involved parties, “sometimes multiple times a day.”

The Purple Line — a 16-mile light-rail line under construction — will stretch from Bethesda to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.

The companies in charge of construction are partnered under Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC) and include Fluor, Lane Construction Corp. and Traylor Bros. In a May 1 letter, the project’s manager wrote that the firms planned to leave the job after the state refused to pay for “extensive delays” and added costs.

The letter was addressed to the companies’ umbrella group, Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), which is contracted with the state to design, build, finance and operate the line for 36 years. Four claims of more than two and a half years of delays and overrun costs were made in the letter.

PLTC said in the letter that it would leave the job within the next 60 to 90 days.

“I’m personally committed to finding a mutually agreeable outcome,” Slater said. “It’s important that whatever we agree on is in the best interest of the state and its taxpayers — short term and long term. At this point, I can’t really talk about the intentions of the PLTC and where they are.”

About 30% of the construction has been completed on the project.

The line will open in two phases. The first will open six stations starting at New Carrollton in 2022. The second phase will bring full service to Montgomery County by opening the remaining 15 stations in 2023.

Slater said officials are considering a “variety of scenarios” if the contractors walk off the project in June.

A PLTC spokeswoman declined to comment on negotiations in an email on May 15. She could not be immediately reached Thursday.

Council Vice President Tom Hucker said during Thursday’s meeting that he was concerned about the breakdown in previous negotiations between PLTC and PLTP. He said he was “distressed” to hear from reporters, rather than state officials, that talks had reached a “dramatic point.”

“I’m a little surprised that we hadn’t heard about that from you and been briefed before we got to that point,” he said to Slater. “You know how important this project is to our whole region. You and we have all spent a huge amount of time on it. It would be appalling to see this get stalled this summer after three years of construction. … Abandonment of a project like this would be unprecedented in our county’s history.”

Kevin Quinn, administrator of the Maryland Transit Administration, said the state shared in the “surprise” when hearing through media reports of the intended termination of the work.

Council Member Evan Glass said he has asked a question numerous times and not received a sufficient answer: Is the project on budget? He mentioned several media outlets that have reported that the project is approximately $519 million over budget.

The figure is the total in claims that have been submitted and are being negotiated, Quinn said.

“Sitting here today, I’d say, yes, it largely is,” he said. “I think it’s these claims that are outside and those have to be resolved and that’s what we’re negotiating right now. … We’re on track.”

Montgomery County has contributed about $225 million to help the state build the line and taxpayers deserve to know how their funds are being used, Glass said.

“When I keep asking questions, they’re not being answered and we only get glimmers of information through the media, which are somewhat being countered now,” he said, adding that the project needs more oversight and accountability.

“The public is being left in the dark,” he said.

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