Judge Orders Work to Continue on Purple Line
Work is moving forward at Maryland’s $2 billion light rail project after a judge earlier this month issued a temporary restraining order against Purple Line Transit Partners LLC, preventing them from stopping work on the project.
The Maryland Transit Administration took action against Purple Line after the partnership—consisting of Fluor (Irving, Texas), Lane Construction Corp. (Cheshire, Connecticut) and Traylor Bros Inc. (Evansville, Indiana)—announced in May that it intended to leave the project due to an ongoing dispute with state transportation agencies over extensive delays and cost overruns.
About the Project
According to the Maryland Department of Transportation and the Maryland Transit Administration, the Purple Line endeavor is a 16-mile light rail project that will run from Bethesda, in Montgomery County, to New Carrollton, in Prince George's County, eventually providing a direct connection for Metrorail Red, Green and Orange Lines at Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park and New Carrollton. The project will also connect with MARC, Amtrak and local bus options. The Purple Line will be powered by a catenary system.
Owned by MDOT and the MTA, plans began with assessments in 2002-08, followed by a draft environmental impact study and light rail being selected as transportation. The FTA issued the final record of decision in 2014, followed by PLTC being chosen in 2016 to assist with the project.
Maryland has officially signaled it would take over the Purple Line project if the private companies involved in the partnership bow out. https://t.co/CDFZnC05dh pic.twitter.com/9IpUECsmUB— DCist (@DCist) August 6, 2020
Through the public-private partnership, PTLC agreed to work on the design, build, operate and maintain the system for 35 years. Other teams collaborating on the project at the time included: the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration and local municipalities.
In March 2019, a judge cleared a lawsuit that might have brought construction to a halt. A few months later, in September, officials announced that the line would open in phases, starting in Prince George’s County, where the first stations would open. At the time, trains were being built in New York and planned to arrive for testing in 2021.
By October, WTOP News reported that issues with concrete at a Maryland Metro entrance shaft, labeled defective by the state, were just one of many issues plaguing the project after the outlet had requested documentation on the project.
According to the documents, in 2016 and 2017, more than one instance of 47 oversight reports where contractors were traversing private property without necessary permission and traffic safety issues.
While more minor issues were easily resolved, there were also instances where construction was commenced without the proper approvals, such as in July 2018, when designs were returned with a request for revisions, but construction still began two weeks later.
In December of that year, problems identified with the concrete included: cracks in approach slabs, concrete out of tolerance, pockmarks and footprints. The sidewalk has issues with “honeycombed sections, voids and does not meet the minimum cover requirements for welded wire reinforcement,” according to the report.
More presently, during the frame issue last October, corrective work was slated for completion by this summer, with the interior build-out finished by the end of 2021. At the same time, project officials expected the project to reach completion in April 2023, though those involved with the project emphasized that they were still aiming for the end of 2022.
In regard to PLTC leaving the project, Washington Business Journal recently reported that the state's transportation agencies said in a statement that the Purple Line has experienced delays "in conjunction with litigation" since 2016 and have been "actively engaged in discussions to mitigate the impacts of litigation and change order requests on both the project schedule and costs."
And last month, PLTC requested an additional $187.7 million and five extra months to complete work regarding a required “crash wall” slated to go between a portion of the Purple Line and CSX freight tracks.
Stemming from a three-year disagreement with MDOT and the MTA, Purple Line informed the agencies that it will be leaving the light-rail project, but has agreed to work with them to ensure an orderly transition.
In its release, Purple Line says it’s exercising a clause in the design-build agreement that allows for withdrawal if total project delays reach 365 days. However, according to the Washington Post, the project is already approaching 1,000 days’ worth of delays from various legal battles, right-of-way acquisition and design changes.
Maryland’s transportation agencies report that although it could not comment on the separation until a settlement agreement was reached, the agencies “remain committed to continuing negotiations and focused on getting this key transit project completed and operational for the taxpayers of Maryland.”
On Aug. 10, Judge Jeffrey Geller ordered that Purple Line not "demobilize or abandon" the project until it has been established through the provisions of the its contract whether the extended delay that it has claimed actually exists. The TRO expires on Sept. 14.
The MTA is suing for breach of contract, alleging that the consortium threatened illegally to walk off the job on Aug. 22, maintaining that Purple Line had begun to dismantle a crane turn off electricity at the facility.
In addition to the judge’s order, MTA issued a letter at the beginning of the month saying that it would take over management of the project if the parties couldn’t come to an agreement.
“This letter is to inform you that MTA intends to exercise its step-in rights under the P3 Agreement and the Design-Build Contract to safeguard the Project and to prevent a work stoppage pending resolution of the parties’ disputes and/or until the Project lenders take possession, custody and control of the Project,” the letter reads.