Construction of the Purple Line in Maryland faces another seven-month delay


Construction of Maryland’s Purple Line, already 4½ years behind schedule, is facing another seven-month delay that could push the line’s opening to mid-2027, according to a new project report.

The recent delays related to the laying of utility lines come as the Purple Line project was scheduled to restart under a new construction contract that cost an additional $1.46 billion. In August, a new prime contractor began restarting work sites that had been abandoned for nearly two years after the original contractor quit in 2020 over disputes over hundreds of millions of dollars in delay-related cost overruns.

The additional delays also pose immediate challenges to the new administration of Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D).

If those responsible for the project don’t find a way to expedite the work, the originally planned five years of construction would take almost a decade. That could double the time that streets are being ripped up in a 16-mile stretch of the Washington suburbs, as well as the time that the University of Maryland is conducting construction work on its campus. Meanwhile, businesses struggle with lost parking spaces and part of the popular Capital Crescent Trail remains closed.

The rail line between Montgomery and Prince George counties was previously scheduled to begin passenger service in late 2026. The opening was originally planned March.

But by the time the new contractor, led by Spanish firms Dragados and OHL, came on board in April, the state-led utility-laying work was already behind schedule, according to project reports. The Maryland Transit Administration took over management of utility work in 2020 to keep part of the project going while a new contractor was found.

New construction contract signed for the Purple Line in Maryland

The first public mention of the overall schedule, which may be delayed an additional seven months, came in a Nov. 28 report by a technical advisor for the investor of the project. The Post received the report on Wednesday.

Officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation and the MTA did not respond to questions Thursday how much the reported delays would add to the $3.4 billion cost of the project, who would pay, and why the state has not disclosed a new schedule to the public.

In a statement, state officials said the “contractual deadline” for the line’s opening date has not changed and that they are still reviewing the delays mentioned in the reports to investors. The state is looking at ways to expedite the work and “achieve greater efficiencies,” the statement said, including by adjusting plans for road construction zones, improving coordination between utilities and conducting more work at once.

“Building a complex transportation project through a 16-mile corridor with vibrant and active communities will never be an easy task,” wrote David Abrams, spokesman for the state’s Purple Line. “The Purple Line team strives to design and implement solutions to address the challenges inherent in a project of this size, scope and scale.”

A spokesman for the private concessionaire that manages the project for the state, headed by infrastructure investor Meridiam, did not respond to questions Thursday.

Maryland House Majority Leader Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery) said he was concerned that the MTA failed to mention the delays in its most recent bi-monthly update of the Purple Line ahead of the December 20 General Assembly. Legislators have required those reports to provide “an explanation for any material change in the overall construction cost estimate or construction schedule,” according to the Department of Legislative Services website.

The fact that the contractor included the delays in its reports “suggests that the contractor and the Maryland Transit Administration are not fully aligned,” said Korman, chair of the House Transportation and Environment Subcommittee. “They need to figure out the mitigation and then give us a realistic estimate of the cost and time delays.”

Korman said he suspected something was wrong when he saw in the December MTA report that the percentage of completed utility relocations remained at 64 percent since the last update. He noted that Maryland transit officials not only failed to disclose the delays to lawmakers, but also failed to disclose it to the public.

“Both are problematic,” Korman said.

Purple Line Study: Without Help, Maryland Light Rail Line Will Bring Gentrification

The project’s rising costs and its inability to meet schedule have drawn national attention, as the Purple Line is one of the first US transit projects to draw on private funding through a 36-year public-private partnership. As governments have turned to such partnerships to fund expensive infrastructure projects, the Purple Line’s troubles have highlighted tensions in government oversight of privately managed construction projects.

Workers are laying underground and above-ground water, telecommunications and other utilities before the roads are widened to accommodate the light rail tracks. The work often requires the closure of lanes and sidewalks.

Delayed utility work has impacted a complex schedule used to manage a massive project along busy roads. Such delays, especially relatively early in a project, can create a domino effect for work that needs to follow in a certain order.

The delays are due to coordination problems between multiple utilities whose lines connect to the same towers, according to the report from the investor’s technical adviser, which was based on information from the contractor.

According to project reports, state officials, the contractor and the private consortium managing the project formed a team to study how to mitigate the delays, e.g. B. by rearranging some works. The contractor said that MDOT found its proposed mitigation actions “appropriate” at a November 15 meeting and that a follow-up meeting had been scheduled for December “to assess the cost impact and potential time savings.”

However, the November 28 report from the investors’ technical advisor says MDOT and the contractor are still discussing how to reduce delays, the length of which would depend on the pace of certain government approvals.

A Q&A with the Purple Line officials responsible for a 16-mile restart of construction

A key question is whether delays will continue to increase as the state and contractor discuss how to reduce them and document who is responsible, which may pave the way for a court battle over who must pay for them. Under the previous contractor, cost overruns continued to escalate into the millions as both sides denied responsibility. Eventually, the contractor resigned, both sides ended up in court, and the state agreed to pay the contractor a $250 million court settlement.

Project officials publicly hinted at problems with the state’s utility work this fall, but did not name any delays in the overall plan.

Purple Line project delays and cost overruns reveal protracted problems

In a Nov. 16 presentation to Montgomery County business leaders, Doran Bosso, general manager of the private concessionaire, said workers laying stormwater sewer pipes recently encountered rocks under Wayne Avenue east of downtown Silver Spring.

“It’s progressing more slowly than we had hoped,” Bosso said, according to a recording of the meeting.

Under the Purple Line partnership, the private concessionaire manages construction and helps with pre-operation financing Railway line for 30 years. The government reimburses the team for construction costs and pays off private debt service in regular payments that also cover the running costs of the line and a profit for the concessionaire.

Construction delays will also cyclists and runners in the Washington area. Purple Line officials have said they cannot reopen a portion of the Capital Crescent Trail between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring, which will run alongside the Purple Line tracks, until they no longer need it for construction vehicles.

Montgomery board member Marc Elrich (D) recommended on Tuesday Delaying construction of a tunnel that would tunnel beneath downtown Bethesda until after mid-2028, citing an estimated cost of $82.5 million. The county is paying to rebuild the trail as part of the Purple Line project.

Construction of the new Capital Crescent Trail tunnel near the Purple Line could be delayed due to rising costs

The Purple Line will run along the trail and local roads within the Capital Beltway between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The line will be separate from the subway, but will be connected to four subway stations, as well as Amtrak and MARC commuter train stations. It will be the first direct suburban to suburban rail line in the Washington area.


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