More than 1½ years since the contractor building Maryland’s Purple Line quit in a dispute over delays and cost overruns, a new construction team is gearing up to complete the first direct suburb-to-suburb rail line in the Washington region.
Reviving a megaproject that has lain mostly dormant since September 2020 is no small feat. It requires bringing in staff and equipment from around the country to rev up 16 miles of abandoned construction sites.
Terry Gohde is the project manager for Maryland Transit Solutions, the new construction joint venture. Doran Bosso is CEO of Purple Line Transit Partners, the private consortium managing the project for the state. They spoke with The Washington Post about what the construction reboot will look like. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
A gentle warning to Maryland residents and motorists: They say the most painful construction is yet to come.
Q: When will major work resume?
Gohde: Construction has never really stopped. [The Maryland Transit Administration] has continued some critical utility relocations. For us, major construction will start in late summer.
Q: Does that mean August?
Gohde: Yeah. We’ll start to gear up with folks here over the next four weeks. We’re bringing in some surveyors and others to assist us in the due diligence process so that we understand what the starting point is. In many cases, we’re going to build on top of something that has been started. We’ll need to uncover those things. We’ll need to have a look at them, assess them and then actually start to build on top of existing foundations.
Q: We’ve been quoting Purple Line project officials saying construction would resume this spring. Did that start date slip?
Gohde: It’s the difference between “construction” and what the public sees as construction, such as when they’re going to see a crane or a large piece of earth-moving equipment. It hasn’t slipped at all. For us, it’s always been a 90- to a 120-day buildup.
Q: When will the Purple Line begin carrying passengers?
Gohde: Opening date is October 2026. But the public will get a look at the [light-rail] vehicles running on track work [during the testing phase] about a year before that, in fall 2025.
Q: Construction is already more than 4½ years behind schedule. How confident are you in that opening date, and why?
Gohde: I think we’re very confident. We had a good deal of time during the [new construction contract] proposal phase to study and understand the project. The previous contractor put together an extremely good traffic management plan … To be totally honest, there are significant penalties to us to not finish on time. Those penalties exceed $200,000 a day for every day we’re late.
Q: What are you doing now?
Gohde: The due diligence process is pretty intense. We had an opportunity [to inspect the work done by the initial contractor] during the proposal phase but only for those things that we could actually see above ground. Now it’s a question of having a look at, understanding and feeling confident with those things that are below ground, things that we have to uncover.
Bosso: We always envisioned this as a team between the concessionaire and the state of Maryland. That’s why MTA is continuing to progress [moving] utilities and that critical path work. We didn’t want things to just stop for a period, so the project is still progressing.
Q: How much of the construction is already done?
Gohde: A good portion of the underground work has been done. The operations and maintenance facility in Glenridge [in Prince George’s County] has been constructed. MTA will turn that building over to us in June. There has been some limited track work done … The shaft that connects the Purple Line station in Bethesda to the [Metro] Red Line is 75 percent complete, but there’s still a good amount of rock excavation that we must complete to make that connection. The project is in a fairly good place for us to now demonstrate real progress, to do things that the public will recognize as a railroad.
Bosso: We can’t forget the light-rail vehicles, which are [being manufactured] up in Elmira, N.Y. They’ve been unaffected by some of the challenges here on the ground. We have 10 or 12 vehicles that could be shipped to site today if we had the track and other facilities built.
Q: Are you far enough along now that you don’t anticipate more delays, or could they still happen?
Gohde: As is very typical of any construction project, we don’t know everything that we don’t know. But we do have a good feel for the things that typically happen on an infrastructure project. A good number of the surprises have been uncovered and resolved, but there will be things. It’s the very nature of the beast … We’ll have the typical setbacks that will cause us to maybe accelerate activity in a certain area so that we can maintain the schedule.
Q: Terry, have you ever taken over a project that’s been partially built by others and has lain dormant for so long?
Gohde: I must be totally honest and tell you that it’s a first for me. There aren’t a lot of these projects. That’s a good thing, right? This project is quite unique in where it is and how we come aboard and how we complete it, but we have had an opportunity to develop a very good understanding of the project and exactly where it is.
Q: What have you found so far when you’ve examined work done by the previous contractor?
Gohde: We have not found anything that is of great concern to us. These things are built to last for 50 years, so the construction itself is quite robust … The major work really is in good shape.
Q: Where will construction resume first?
Gohde: First and foremost for us is going to be the [operations and maintenance] facility at Glenridge. We had intended to move on to the University of Maryland campus and begin drainage work this summer. We realized that was not the best way to move forward. There are still considerable utility relocations being completed by MTA. We didn’t want to make a mistake and open up the campus and then not be able to put it back in the condition that the college requires for students coming back in August. So we’ll be primarily focused on the two ends of the project — the Glenridge facility, yard and test track and the cavern and [elevator] shaft in Bethesda that makes the connection from the Purple Line to the Red Line.
Q: How will construction expand from there?
Gohde: I think the part of the project that will be most annoying to the public will be the road widening and reconstruction that has to occur on the east end of the project [east of downtown Silver Spring]. That construction will get underway in earnest next spring, and then it will pretty much be a continuous process of widening the road to one side while diverting traffic [to the other]. That will be a relatively drawn-out process with a very good traffic management plan, but it won’t be 100 percent painless by any means. We want to be ready to hit that work and get it done as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Q: A lot of cyclists and runners miss the Capital Crescent Trail that has closed temporarily for Purple Line construction between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring. Could the trail be reopened before the trains begin carrying passengers?
Gohde: I don’t know that we’ve discussed that. I’m reluctant to say yes or no. I would hope so. We’ll be done through that area earlier than in the street-running area here on the eastern end. I’m reluctant today to tell you what that date might be.
Bosso: I think we are well aware of the sensitivity and the desire. You’re talking to two cyclists, so we have a personal appreciation for the folks that would like that facility open. As we get into the details of the schedule, we’ll know the art of the possible. You have to take into account construction access. Even though it might look finished, are we still going to be taking trucks or vehicles across there? As we get to those details, we will work with the team to make as much open as we can and also communicate that effectively to the public.
Q: What else should people know about the project at this point?
Bosso: It’s still the same great project it’s always been. We’re really excited to deliver it. We’re excited about the positive economic and community benefits it’s going to have and [how it will] improve transportation in the region. Now we’re gearing up to deliver it, finally, to the people who have been so patient with us and have continued to support us over the years.
Upcoming Purple Line open houses:
Purple Line project officials have scheduled two open houses about construction restarting:
• May 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Silver Spring Civic Building, 1 Veterans Place in downtown Silver Spring.
• May 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m., University of Maryland Stamp Student Union atrium, 3972 Campus Drive in College Park.
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