So has the long-term quality of life for tens of thousands of residents living along the torn-up route of the massive, half-finished construction site; the political fortunes of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican whose ambitions for higher office might have been crippled had the project collapsed; and the corporate reputation of two of the three private partners, which would have been badly tarnished, and deservedly so, had they walked away from the 36-year, $5.6 billion deal.
Most critically, the deal is a second lease on life for a project that has survived decades of planning, political ups and downs, and legal fights for one main reason: It holds the promise not just of providing a vital transit link that will benefit thousands of daily commuters, but also of reinvigorating older close-in suburban neighborhoods badly in need of it.
The $250 million Maryland has agreed to pay its partners — presumably, mainly Fluor, the Texas-based construction firm that walked off the job — seems like a reasonable sum given that they had insisted on $800 million for cost overruns, much of that stemming from a specious lawsuit by Purple Line opponents, which caused needless delays. And, sources told us, the state may be required to pony up only a portion of the full amount up front, with the remainder spread over years from transportation funds.
The bad news, though, is that there are likely to be additional costs involved in finding and hiring a new construction contractor, in addition to the added delay for a project already more than two years behind schedule. (Don’t bet on riding the Purple Line, originally set to open in March 2022, before 2025.)
Still, this deal seems like something close to the best plausible outcome given the range of grim options that were on the table. Had the partnership with the private firms dissolved, the state would have faced not only hiring and managing its own construction contractor, but also financing the remaining half of the $2 billion work — which, in a pandemic-strained fiscal climate, might have proved all but impossible. As it is, the pandemic has forced the state to wipe out nearly $3 billion from what had been projected of roughly $16 billion in capital spending on transportation over six years. Failing that go-it-alone scenario, officials in Annapolis would have had to find another private partner to provide the financing, a very tall (and maybe impossible) order.
Mr. Hogan, his transportation team and the state’s remaining private partners, Meridiam and Star America, have pulled back from the brink. Their impasse and lawsuits are in the rearview mirror. Marylanders are likely to be the big winners, eventually.