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BPW OKs Extra Funds to Modify Purple Line Contract

Purple Line construction along Queens Chapel Road in Prince George’s County. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Maryland leaders on Wednesday approved a plan to allocate an additional $250 million for the Purple Line, a massive light rail project running east to west in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The Board of Public Works voted unanimously to approve the Hogan administration’s $250 million settlement with Purple Line Transit Partners, the collection of firms building the oft-delayed transit line. The vote brings the total state outlay for the project to $5.8 billion ― and a $100 million first installment of the settlement will be paid out to the transit consortium before the end of the year.

The state has officially taken over day-to-day management of the project, which runs from New Carrollton to Bethesda, and 14 different contractors are continuing to work on different phases of the construction, Transportation Secretary Greg Slater told the board members ― Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D). Over the next several months, Purple Line Transit Partners will solicit bids for a new project designer and manager, he said.

Despite the extra outlay of cash, officials cast the decision as a sound investment ― particularly in view of the fact that the contractor was originally demanding $800 million from the state to cover various cost overruns associated with the project.

Slater said he expected a competitive bidding process and that the state would be able to take advantage of more favorable interest rates and innovations in the industry to save money.

“I think we’re going to end up with a much better situation,” Hogan agreed.

An hour before the BPW even tackled the Purple Line agenda item, Hogan opened the meeting with a full-throated defense of the deal. He said even though completion of the rail line is still a few years off, the project has led to the creation of 6,300 “Maryland jobs” and $2 billion in investments in residential, office and commercial development near the planned route. He added that when it’s operational, the Purple Line will take 17,000 cars off the road on a daily basis.

“We kept pushing and working hard to keep it moving,” Hogan said.

In a statement, Jane Garvey, chair of the Purple Line Transit Partners board, hailed the Board of Public Works vote.

“We now have a clear path to initiate an accelerated, open and transparent process to bring on a replacement design-build contractor,” she said. “Working hand in hand with the State, we will begin that effort without delay in order to deliver the Purple Line to the people of Maryland as soon and efficiently as possible.”

Even as Franchot and Kopp ― former state lawmakers who represented Montgomery County for decades before assuming their statewide positions ― voted for the contract adjustment and expressed enthusiasm for the Purple Line, both said they were mindful that the transit system in Baltimore City is in need of significant improvements and extra state investments.

Reacting to the news that President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate former White House contender Pete Buttigieg as U.S. Transportation secretary, Franchot expressed hope that John D. Porcari, the former Maryland Transportation secretary and former U.S. DOT deputy secretary, “finds himself in a significant position” in the Biden administration to confront Baltimore City’s transit woes.

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BPW OKs Extra Funds to Modify Purple Line Contract