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Maryland lawmakers write to Gov. Hogan with ‘deep’ concerns about fate of Purple Line

Pedestrians walk past a Purple Line sign at the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center, where the light-rail line’s construction recently ceased amid cost disputes on the project.
Pedestrians walk past a Purple Line sign at the Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center, where the light-rail line’s construction recently ceased amid cost disputes on the project. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement to MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson. The statement was from Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater. This version has been corrected.

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote to Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Wednesday, saying that their “deep” concerns about the fate of the Purple Line “have grown exponentially” since the consortium managing the project terminated its contract.

In a letter to Hogan, the nine Democratic lawmakers urged the Maryland Department of Transportation to negotiate with the private consortium, Purple Line Transit Partners, over hundreds of millions in unpaid cost overruns. Meanwhile, they said, the state should simultaneously continue to make “the necessary arrangements to transition the project to MDOT if a settlement is not reached.”

“It is imperative to find a path forward as these delays mean that Maryland residents are the ones that suffer,” the letter said.

Maryland takes over some Purple Line subcontracts after contractor quits

MDOT recently took over 233 subcontracts on the light-rail project to keep some work moving after the construction contractor quit in September over what it said were $800 million in unpaid cost overruns. The state also has assumed the project’s operations and maintenance contract, as well as the contract to continue manufacturing the light-rail vehicles in Upstate New York.

Purple Line Transit Partners, which had employed the contractor, announced that it plans to terminate its $5.6 billion, 36-year public-private partnership with the state, but has continued negotiations in hopes of reaching a settlement. The state and consortium are also suing each other, alleging breach of contract.

State transportation officials have said they plan to seek another construction contractor or a new private partner, but have not said how much either option would cost or add to the delays. The line was initially scheduled to open in March 2022, but the contractor has said it is more than 2½ years behind schedule.

Purple Line project uncertainty leaves residents, businesses in limbo

Maryland Transportation Secretary Gregory Slater said the state is already working on “a parallel track” of continuing to negotiate with the concessionaire while “setting up a plan to deliver the project on its own.” In the meantime, he said, MDOT is focusing on completing the design, continuing utility line relocations and other work.

“We remain committed to continue working with the community and local businesses to collaborate and find opportunities to minimize any impacts to the best of our ability,” Slater said in a written statement.

Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said the letter showed the congressional delegation isn’t up to speed on the project.

“We are making good progress on the Purple Line, and all of our critical infrastructure projects across the state,” Ricci said in an email. “Obviously our congressional delegation is a bit out of the loop on where things stand, but we will make sure they receive a technical update.”

The lawmakers cite the “significant disruption” that Purple Line construction has caused for residents and businesses along the 16-mile alignment between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Additional delays, they said, “will only exacerbate the burdens” that those along the alignment have faced since construction started in 2017.

Purple Line companies countersue state for cost overruns

Delegation members also said they are concerned because the state is paying for some of the Purple Line’s $2 billion construction with $900 million in highly competitive Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants.

“In light of the substantial commitment of federal resources and time to this project, we are concerned that the current situation could negatively impact Maryland’s working relationship with FTA and harm Maryland’s ability to access future federal transportation funds,” the letter said.

Once completed, they said, the Purple Line will connect residents to jobs and attract investment to communities along the alignment.

“We are all anxious for the project to reach that stage as quickly and cost-effectively as possible,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter is signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, and Reps. Steny H. Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John P. Sarbanes, Anthony G. Brown, Jamie B. Raskin, Kweisi Mfume and David Trone.