Joint Venture Leaves MD Purple Line Project
Last week, construction came to a halt at Maryland’s $5.6 billion Purple Line light-rail project, as joint venture Purple Line Transit Partners proceeded with its decision to depart from the endeavor.
The decision to quit is appointed to unresolved disputes regarding over more than $800 million in cost overruns.
According to 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 Purple Line Transit Constructors—a partnership consisting of Fluor (Irving, Texas), Lane Construction Corp. (Cheshire, Connecticut) and Traylor Bros Inc. (Evansville, Indiana)—being chosen in 2016 to assist with the project.
Through the public-private partnership, PLTC agreed to work on the design, build and operate, as well as 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 noted 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."
In April, 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.
And in May, PLTC announced that it planned to withdraw from the project as a result of a three-year ongoing dispute with MDOT and the MTA over extensive delays and cost overruns. However, PLTC reported that its other consortium, Purple Line Transit Partners (Meridiam, Fluor and Star America Infrastructure Partners) had agreed to take over the project.
According to reports, PLTP also holds a public-private partnership with the state of Maryland for a larger design-build and operating contract, worth $5.6 billion.
In its release, PLTC says its 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.
However, in June, the PLTP formally notified state transportation agencies that it intended to terminate the partnership in 60 days, citing cost overruns. Two months later in August, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey M. Geller filed a temporary restraining order that prevented PLTP from walking off the project.
At the beginning of this month, Geller ruled that the joint venture could quit over the cost overrun dispute, though transit officials could attempt to salvage the partnership.
What’s Happening Now
According to a spokeswoman for PLTP, Carla Julian, the joint venture is preparing a schedule for its official departure form the Purple Line project. The schedule is expected to publish in the coming weeks, although the companies intend to continue its packing-up process.
In the meantime, Maryland transportation officials plan to take over day-to-day management of the project but are still making efforts to come to a settlement with PLTP. Should the JV stick with its plans to leave, state officials estimate the decision would add another one to two years of delays to the project, which is already two and a half years behind schedule. The original completion date was March 2022.
Staying positive about the slated departure, MTA Administrator Kevin Quin said, “I give you my commitment and the state’s commitment that we will deliver this project.” Later adding, “We’re going to do our best to keep construction going.”
In preparing for how the state will take over the project, Jaclyn Hartman, Chief Financial Officer for the Maryland Department of Transportation told the Washington Post that Maryland would use money from its Transportation Trust Fund to keep some Purple Line construction going until the state could issue bonds. However, the decision could mean additional cuts to funding for highways, airports, the port of Baltimore or state transit systems.
Currently, there are 16 miles worth of unfinished construction, including various tunnels, unfinished bridges and roadways throughout Montgomery and Prince George counties.