ROCKVILLE – A Maryland Transit Administration official and the CEO of the company overseeing Purple Line construction said they are trying to bring the project back on schedule so it does not exceed the end of the funding grant.
“Despite what was reported in the news, the goal is to bring (things back on schedule),” Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) CEO Fred Craig told the Council Transportation and Environment Committee March 21.
If the 16-mile, light rail purple line project’s construction is not completed by the deadline in 2022, it may lose a funding source, Maryland Transit Administration official Charles Lattuca told the Montgomery County Council committee. The transit line will operate east to west and connect various Metrorail stations in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“Our funding grant expires in 2022, and so we want to get the project done before it expires,” Lattuca said.
Craig told the committee he and state transportation officials are trying various strategies to make sure that the project finishes on schedule, such as overtime or working on weekends, whereas a contractor was not previously completing work on Saturdays and Sundays.
He and Lattuca said a lawsuit filed by the organization Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail against the Maryland Transit Administration created about a year’s worth of delays for the project. Lattuca told the committee PLTP and the contractors could not chop down trees or perform construction work during the pending litigation by Friends of Capital Crescent Trail, although work did not halt completely. The state was still able to purchase land.
Delays to the project due to lawsuits have pushed the projected completion date from March 2022 to February 2023, according to PLTP. The delays have also cost $125 million, Craig said during a January community meeting held in College Park.
“We’re shooting for (an) end of 2022” completion date, Craig told the committee on March 21.
As a result of a lawsuit by Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail, the District Court Judge for the District of Columbia Richard J. Leon had reversed the federal government’s record of decision by the federal government, preventing the project from receiving a $900 million grant for months. Leon later dismissed the lawsuit.
Driving for work to be completed faster comes at a cost.
“You’re going to have to negotiate the amount of money you want to pay for the acceleration (of work),” Lattuca said.
Committee Member Evan Glass (D-At-Large) said he had heard that the project is going to exceed its budget by $215 million. Lattuca said that some claims made in a lawsuit have not been decided on so far.
“There are some claims that have been made in relation to the lawsuit, and also where the environmental permit was revoked for a year, also a claim for real property and a couple different requests for change orders from the contractor,” Lattuca said.
The state has not agreed to pay the amounts of money requested by the contractor or contractors for change orders, said Lattuca.
Glass asked how close the project is to being on schedule.
“We really don’t know until we negotiate all the acceleration with the contractor,” Lattuca said.
Another issue Lattuca mentioned is that the state is requesting an easement for access to land, but the asking price for the easement is greater than the state is interested in paying. The state had met with officials to discuss the easement March 18, but they were not able to agree.
“The problem between obtaining this easement right now, is that we’re very far apart on money,” Lattuca said.
State officials had made an appraisal for the easement, but that was less than what those who would grant the easement were hoping to receive.
Duing the meeting, Glass criticized Lattuca for not knowing precisely how much money the state had spent so far. Lattuca estimated about $600 million had been spent on the project so far, which is less than the state anticipated spending at this point in the project. He attributed this to the delays from the lawsuit.
“Purple Line riders want to ride and taxpayers don’t want (cost overruns),” Committee Chairman Tom Hucker (D-5) said.
Craig said the design of the project is nearly finished, and 10 percent of construction has been completed.
The Purple Line is being built through a public-private partnership between MDOT, the FTA and the consultant Purple Line Transit Partners.