The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Purple Line bid deadline delayed for Hogan decision

(Gene Thorp/The Washington Post)

The Maryland Transit Administration has delayed by two months a major bid deadline on the proposed light-rail Purple Line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to give Gov.-elect Larry Hogan (R) more time to evaluate the project.

The Jan. 9 deadline for bids to build and operate the 16-mile line has been pushed back to March 12, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

The timing of the bid solicitation and Hogan’s decision of whether to continue or kill the $2.45-billion transit project must jibe because the state, in an effort to increase competition, agreed to pay up to $2 million each for losing bids.

That “stipend” — which could amount to a total $8 million if all four bids were rejected — would only kick in after bids are submitted. Hogan has said he will not make any policy announcements until after he takes office Jan. 21.

The delay was first reported by the Montgomery Gazette.

Four teams of private companies have spent more than a year preparing highly technical proposals to design, build, operate, maintain and help finance the transit line between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The 35-year contract would be one of the most far-reaching public-private partnerships of any transit project in the United States and the first for a Maryland transit project.

If Hogan continues with the project, the delayed bids would not affect the state schedule of construction beginning in 2015, MTA spokesman Paul Shepard said. He said the state is continuing to buy property needed for the line.

The Purple Line was not a major issue in the gubernatorial campaign. However, when asked in media interviews, Hogan said a Purple Line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, as well as a $2.9 billion Red Line in Baltimore, would be too expensive. The state’s transportation funds, Hogan said, would be better spent on road projects.

Montgomery and Prince George’s officials have said they plan to lobby the incoming governor to try to change his mind.

Local officials say they need the transit line to attract economic development and focus new growth around light-rail stations. State officials say the line would provide a faster, more reliable east-west transit link between Metrorail lines than buses now do, and would connect to Amtrak and MARC commuter rail stations.

Critics say a Purple Line would be too expensive and would cause too much environmental damage, particularly along the wooded Georgetown Branch extension of the Capital Crescent Trail between Bethesda and Silver Spring.