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Maryland scheduled to notify winning Purple Line bidder Friday

The proposed route of the light-rail Purple Line.  (Provided by the Maryland Transit Administration)

If the Maryland Transit Administration sticks to its published Purple Line schedule, the state will notify a selected bidder for the massive light-rail project Friday. Or maybe the state already has. Or maybe that’s been delayed.

State transit officials won’t say whether they’re following the “solicitation schedule” included in bid documents on its Purple Line website that lists “on or before January 15, 2016” for the “anticipated notification of selected proposer.” One of the four teams of private companies bidding on the project said the teams were sent another schedule saying MTA would make an announcement between Jan. 15 and Feb. 5.

The winning Purple Line proposal is expected to be one of the largest government contracts ever granted in Maryland. State officials have said it will cover 35 years — five years of construction and 30 years of operating and maintaining the 16-mile rail line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, inside the Capital Beltway. Under the public-private partnership – one of the most far-reaching of any U.S. transit project — a team of private companies would help finance construction, complete the project’s design, build the line, and then operate and maintain it for an agreed-upon monthly amount paid by the state. The four bidding teams submitted the final part of their proposals Dec. 8.

[Why the Purple Line’s public-private partnership would be one of the broadest in the country]

MTA officials said this week they won’t say whether a selected bidder will be notified Friday — or whether a bidder has already has been notified — because they consider such details to be part of the procurement process, which isn’t subject to Maryland’s Public Information Act. State officials say they won’t comment until February, when the transit agency expects to announce the winning team after reaching a final agreement on the selected proposal.

Some opponents of the project have gained new hope from a Dec. 10 story by WAMU (88.5). The story reported that, in an interview with the public radio station, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn “held out the possibility that none of the four bids would meet the state’s demands.” The station quoted Rahn as saying: “We are hoping that is not the case. We won’t know that until a very thorough evaluation of these proposals.”

Despite Rahn’s published comments and the fact that the state still must secure $900 million in federal construction aid, the project continues to move along quickly. Montgomery County’s transportation department recently ordered residents along the wooded trail to remove sheds, fences or other structures they’ve built on public land preserved for the project by April 30.

Meanwhile, the MTA is encouraging companies that qualify for the state’s Minority, Disadvantaged and Small Business Enterprise program to take an online “business readiness profile and assessment” if they want a piece of the Purple Line work. The state’s website also advises anyone interested in working on the project to update their résumé and check out relevant education and training programs.

The state last estimated the line’s construction cost at $2.15 billion. The line would connect Maryland’s spokes of the Washington region’s Metrorail system with neighborhoods, the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, and Amtrak and MARC commuter rail stations.  Supporters say an east-west rail line is needed to replace slow buses that get stuck in traffic and spur economic development in older inner suburbs. Opponents say it’s too expensive and would ruin a now-wooded jogging and cycling trail that trains would run along between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring. The line would run two-car trains mostly along local streets. While it would stop at Metrorail stations, it would not be part of the Metro system.

Montgomery County officials say state officials have told them construction would start in late 2016 or early 2017, with the line opening in 2021.