Purple Line Construction Should Fully Resume by Early 2022, Slater Says

Construction continued in April near unfinished Purple Line rail tracks at the Paul Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring. The planned 16.2-mile light rail line project is being administered by the Maryland Transit. Getty Images photo by Drew Angerer.

Long-suffering communities along the partially built Purple Line will likely see construction fully resume by spring, Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said Monday.

His comments came after the state chose Maryland Transit Solutions (MTS), a newly formed consortium, to complete the project.

MTS is comprised of two of the world’s largest heavy-construction firms, Madrid-based Dragados and OHL. The Maryland Transit Administration announced on Friday that it selected the duo to pick up where the project’s original primary subcontractor left off.

Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC) quit the project last December following a lengthy dispute with the state over cost overruns — a battle that ended up in court.

The state Department of Transportation took over day-to-day oversight of the project when PLTC left, focusing on design, utility relocation and permits. But Slater acknowledged that the timetable for completing the 21-station, 16-mile rail line has suffered.

“We lost a year in the lawsuit and we basically lost a year or so in… construction,” he conceded.

Slater met with the Prince George’s County Council on Monday to discuss the state’s six-year Consolidated Transportation Program, and questions about the Purple Line dominated the discussion.

The state and Maryland Transit Solutions must hammer out the final details on a contract — including cost. The secretary said he hopes to have an agreement to present to the Board of Public Works by February. That would allow construction of the $2.2 billion project, which will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton, to be back at full steam by spring.

MTS was one of three applicants deemed qualified to complete the project. Only two firms submitted a proposal, the winning bidder and a joint venture of Tutor-Perini and Lunda.

A top state official told Maryland Matters last month that MDOT was having difficulty landing a new prime subcontractor because of the challenges — and potential legal issues — involved in taking responsibility for complex work that another firm started.

“It’s bringing in a new chef with a half-baked cake,” Slater said in response to questions from Councilmember Jolene Ivey (D). “We had to extend the due-diligence process twice.”

Greg Sanders, vice president of Purple Line Now, an advocacy group, said the delay in awarding the contract “gave the competition teams more of a chance to go through and inspect the current state of things, and also for Maryland to complete some of the activities on the design and utility work.”

Maryland had to pay PLTC $250 million to resolve cost disputes with the firm, and Slater hinted that costs could climb still higher.

“The labor pool is different today. The market is different. The interest rates are different. Materials costs are 20%-25% higher than [they] were in 2016,” when the original contract was signed, he said.

As a result of all the delays, Councilmember Dannielle M. Glaros (D) said it will be “a few years,” likely 2025, before trains run along the Purple Line, putting the project roughly three years behind schedule.

“We’re going to have a schedule out there relatively soon — in the next couple of weeks and months,” Slater pledged. “I went to the football game in College Park a few weeks ago and kind of went through there. It’s awful to see and we just really want to see some activity back on there.”

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.