The team of companies designing and building Maryland’s Purple Line has replaced its CEO, hoping a new leader will resolve disputes with the state over construction delays and potential cost overruns in the $5.6 billion public-private partnership, a project spokesman said Wednesday.
The change comes as the private consortium, known as Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), and the Maryland Transit Administration have been ensnared in a debate over when the 16-mile line will begin carrying passengers and how much each side should pay to offset delays and accelerate work.
PLTP has said the Purple Line can’t carry passengers until March 2023 — a year behind the contract’s opening date — and then only if the state pays an additional $300 million. However, a top Maryland transit official said recently that the state still believes the light-rail line can open by late 2022 and that the two sides are “still far apart” on any agreement about schedule changes or cost overruns.
As of Monday, Peter van der Waart has replaced Fred Craig as chief executive of PLTP, said PLTP spokesman John Undeland. The companies are designing and building the Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and helping to finance its construction. They also will operate and maintain the system for 30 years.
The Purple Line has drawn national attention because it is one of the most far-reaching public-private partnerships of any U.S. transit project. Governments increasingly are turning to such partnerships to finance, build and manage large, complex and expensive infrastructure projects.
Van der Waart, 51, was selected for his “extensive background” in managing public-private partnerships, Undeland said.
“Peter’s job is to come in and work to resolve these issues,” Undeland said of the delays and cost disputes. “He’s done this on previous projects, and it’s his key assignment so these distractions don’t delay construction.”
Craig declined to comment on his departure.
Van der Waart most recently oversaw 16 “assets” in North America for French investment firm Meridiam, one of three equity partners in PLTP. He also served on PLTP’s board and the boards of three other public-private partnerships, according to his résumé. He also worked on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project and a public-private partnership on the Presidio Parkway in San Francisco.
Undeland said Craig, who started as CEO a year ago, is leaving the project and Meridiam but had “done a great job” in explaining the Purple Line’s construction to elected officials, community groups and the media.
This is the second change in PLTP leadership since the public-private partnership formed in 2016.
The Purple Line’s construction faced delays before shovels went in the ground because of an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit opposing the project on environmental grounds.
After construction started — nearly a year behind schedule — PLTP said the state has lagged in providing property needed for the alignment of the line and in completing environmental reviews.
The state also is embroiled in a debate with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission over Purple Line construction. The utility says the construction runs too close to one of its highly pressurized water distribution mains.
Ralph Bennett of the advocacy group Purple Line Now said Craig had been “a terrific asset” because of his candor and accessibility to the public. He said he doesn’t hold Craig responsible for any delays.
“This is such a complicated project,” Bennett said.