MD Purple Line Settles Dispute, JV Returns
According to reports, the Maryland Department of Transportation has managed to salvage its relationship with most of the contractors involved in public private partnership, Purple Line Transit Partners, regarding cost overruns on the Purple Line light rail project.
The settlement is pending state Board of Public Works approval.
Purple Line Saga
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.
The Maryland Department of Transportation will pay an additional $250 million to salvage a 36-year partnership with the companies managing construction of the delayed #PurpleLine. ?@shaverk? https://t.co/qW3PWOIe8H— Cape Cod Explorer (@RobertT29580792) November 25, 2020
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 more than $800 million in 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 September, Geller ruled that the joint venture could quit over the cost overrun dispute, though transit officials could attempt to salvage the partnership. By the end of the month, construction came to a halt, as PLTP proceeded with its decision to depart from the endeavor.
In wake of the decision, Maryland transportation officials planned to take over day-to-day management of the project but were still making efforts to come to a settlement with PLTP. Should the JV stick with its plans to leave, state officials estimated 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.
In an effort to salvage the 36-year, $5.6 billion PLTP partnership, MDOT announced last week that it has agreed to pay an additional $250 million to the remaining companies that have agreed to manage construction of the delayed and cost disputed Purple Line project.
The settlement amount reportedly covers what PLTP and its associated construction team spent on a lawsuit filed by project opponents and the state’s delay in providing right of way.
Originally made up of primary construction contractor Fluor, and infrastructure investors Meridiam and Star America, despite the settlement, Flour announced that it will still be leaving the partnership, having quit last month over delays and cost escalations.
While the settlement won’t be sent to Maryland’s Board of Public Works until December, MDOT spokesperson Erin Henson declined to report where the state planned to get the money, but that more details would be released about the settlement next month.
According to The Washington Post, the deal revives one of Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature transportation projects and a public-private partnership that imploded in September following three years of cost disputes.
“This agreement is a major step toward completing the Purple Line, a transformative project for our state and the region,” Hogan (R-Maryland) said in a statement.
Until a new design-build contractor replaces Flour, MDOT said it will be overseeing subcontractors on a variety of work to keep the project moving, such as paving, moving utility lines and manufacturing light-rail vehicles, among others.
However, The Baltimore Sun reveals that its still unclear how soon construction might resume or when the light rail line will open. Currently, the 16-mile, 21-station rail line, which will run between Bethesda and New Carrollton, is about 40% built.
“The months of challenging but always good-faith negotiations, led by Secretary Slater, have paved the way for an agreement that will allow the project to move ahead,” said Jane Garvey, chairman of Meridiam North America and of the board of Purple Line Transit Partners in a statement. “We look forward to our continued partnership with Governor Hogan’s team and with Secretary Slater in delivering what is a critical project for the citizens of Maryland.”