Purple Line will cost billions more than planned, open 4.5 years late The delays and increased cost for labor, material, financing, and more come after Maryland had to get another builder for the project.
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Purple Line will cost billions more than planned, open 4.5 years late

A Purple Line light rail vehicle that will eventually run between Bethesda and New Carrollton, Maryland. Courtesy of/MDOT hide caption

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Courtesy of/MDOT

Maryland's Purple Line light rail will be far more expensive and it'll take much longer for the first passengers to ride the rails from Bethesda to New Carrollton, according to new reports from transportation officials.

Estimates put the opening date now to fall 2026, more than four years behind schedule. The project would open all at once, according to this new plan, a departure from an old idea to open it in two segments.

The project's overall cost of construction and financing also is jumping to $9.3 billion dollars, up from $5.6 billion when the project was originally approved in 2016, according to two reports transportation officials submitted to the General Assembly on Wednesday. This further increases the cost of the nation's largest public-private partnership. Maryland is working with private partners to build and run the transit line for 30 years.

The Board of Public Works is set to vote on Jan. 26 on a contract for a new builder, Maryland Transit Solutions, which is a joint venture of Dragados USA and OHL USA.

They're replacing Purple Line Transit Constructors, a group made up of Fluor, Lane Construction Co., and Traylor Bros., who left the project in 2020 over delays and legal problems, which set the project back by more than a year and added $519 million to the total cost. Maryland paid $250 million to settle with the companies.

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"Despite the challenges over the last several years, we have never lost sight of the benefits of the Purple Line for the residents and businesses in the National Capital Region," MTA administrator Holly Arnold wrote in the documents. "(The Board of Public Works vote) is the next step to move the Purple Line from construction into an active light rail line that creates a truly interconnected regional transit system."

The state has been building what it can after the first builders left, but construction could ramp up significantly in spring if the Board of Public Works, made up of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot, and Treasurer Dereck Davis, approve the contract. For months, partially-built bridges and other unfinished construction work have dotted the region.

Officials pointed out project benefits of the east-west, 16.2-mile line: its 21 stations will connect Maryland's two populous counties around the District.

"(It will provide) access for jobs, education, healthcare, shopping and recreation, and provide connections across the region with links to five branches of Metrorail, three MARC commuter rail lines, Amtrak, and a host of bus services," transportation officials wrote in the brief to legislators. They also touted its ability to reduce congestion on roads by getting more people out of their cars.

Hogan has also been focused on building Express Toll Lanes on the I-495/270 corridor in a P3 deal.

"Private sector funding for the Purple Line allows the state to balance limited Transportation Trust Fund resources and honor infrastructure commitments across the state," the state wrote in its brief. "Without the P3 model and its financing components, MDOT MTA would not be able to expand transit into a critical region of the state without incurring additional cost to establish operations outside its core Baltimore service area."

Ben Ross, a transit advocate in Maryland who has followed Purple Line issues throughout the project, wrote on Twitter that it was a"giant mistake" not to dump the public-private partnership (P3).

"Republican fixation on P3s & privatization overruled sound contracting practice & responsible financial management," he said.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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