Purple Line NOW News - June 3, 2020

In today's edition of Purple Line NOW News, here's what you'll find:

  • The Purple Line Remains a Great Value
  • Maryland Department of Transportation Briefing to Montgomery County Council
  • Silver Spring Community Advisory Team Highlights

The Purple Line Remains a Great Value

You may have seen PLN Vice President Greg Sanders’ commentary in Maryland Matters (May 23, 2020), Purple Line Remains a Great Value, but just in case you missed it, here is the column in full:

"That companies building Maryland’s Purple Line have threatened to withdraw does indicate that costs are likely to increase and that the project will be delayed, but it does not throw the value of the project into doubt.

Geography is the strength of the 16.2-mile light rail project.

More than 150,000 people already live within a half-mile of its 21 planned stations and could use the Purple Line to travel to job centers, including the under-ten-minute trip the line would make possible between downtown Bethesda and Silver Spring. The concentration of people and jobs, combined with trains arriving every 7.5 minutes during rush hour (and options to increase that frequency to every 5 or 6 minutes), drive forecasts of about 69,300 daily riders by 2040 and 16,800 cars taken off area roads.

At a time of strained budgets, evidence of the estimated 1-to-2.2% economic growth the Purple Line will stimulate can be seen in construction that is already underway. Those projects include new, much-needed housing in Washington D.C.’s expensive inner suburbs, transit-oriented development in Riverdale, and expanded Kaiser Permanente facilities at New Carrollton.

The pandemic crisis highlights the importance of Maryland’s life sciences cluster. And, by weaving together four branches of Metrorail, the Purple Line will provide direct access to the University of Maryland and M-Square, and will improve connections to the rest of the state, including Baltimore hospitals accessible via MARC trains.

The infusion of over $1 billion in federal grants and concessionaire support for construction helps maintain the region’s economy during this pandemic. After a COVID-19 vaccine is in place and the line has opened, the Purple Line will leverage Maryland’s strengths to aid in a strong recovery. These benefits make the Purple Line a good deal even if the dispute between the state and the builders has raised the project’s costs.

Purple Line opponents triggered delays and about $150 million in cost increases when they convinced a judge to suspend construction for most of a year.

Freight rail company CSX has been slow and inflexible in negotiations, but they have at last made clear their demands. The builder has criticized Maryland’s pace with property acquisition, but we can now see progress.

Maryland reports that 28% of construction is complete.

And the Purple Line’s public-private partnership (P3) has overcome challenges that hampered Metrorail’s Silver Line construction: the concessionaire has regularly tested the quality of concrete and, where necessary, undertaken fixes at their own expense.

Still, the dispute between Maryland and the builder, if handled badly, risks compounding costs and delays. However, the private concessionaire remains committed, Maryland owns the project, and state retains a strong hand for resolving the dispute.

Costs may end up closer to estimates by the prior administration. That outcome would be in line with 2014 research by the Brookings Institution that found P3s are not a panacea, nor often the cheapest option for construction, but that P3s can provide great value over decades of operation because of performance incentives.

We encourage the state and concessionaire to resolve negotiations quickly. The best outcome — Maryland and the builder reaching a reasonable arrangement — is still on the table if a deal can be reached within the 60-90 day withdrawal period.

Meanwhile, the state and concessionaire have the option to confer with other builders, and their estimates would put the current numbers to a competitive test.

It is time to update cost and schedule estimates, but due to the Purple Line’s fundamental strengths, any fair and wise agreement will still be a bargain for the benefits it will deliver to Maryland.

— GREG SANDERS

Stay Safe!

All of us here at Purple Line NOW hope that you and your loved ones remain healthy during this pandemic. Please, stay safe!

Share This Newsletter

Please feel free to share this newsletter - no permission from us needed! You can always find a link to our newsletter on our Purple Line NOW website which makes it easy to share with your friends, neighbors, constituents, customers, and employees.

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CONSTRUCTION NEWS TO KNOW

Maryland Department of Transportation Briefing to Montgomery County Council

On May 21, the Montgomery County Council was briefed by the Maryland Department of Transportation on the status of Purple Line construction. Greg Slater, Secretary, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT), and Kevin Quinn, Administrator, Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT/MTA) provided the briefing to the council. We’ll list some highlights we took away from the meeting, but you can watch the full briefing on the Montgomery County Council website.

As you know, the current group of firms building the Purple Line, the Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC), is threatening to leave the project if they are not granted additional funding and time to accommodate external challenges. If negotiations are not successful, the concessionaire, the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), would have to find a new firm to lead the construction effort. The current plan is to open the College Park to New Carrollton portion of the line in late 2022 and the section from College Park to Bethesda (via Silver Spring) in 2023. However, last month’s news may cast those dates into doubt.

There were a lot of positives to take away from the briefing, namely that negotiations are on-going and construction is continuing with loads of visible progress. Secretary Slater stated that calls between his office and the Purple Line Transit Partners are happening daily, which was good to hear. Mr. Slater also said that the state of Maryland is acting as a “mediator” between the concessionaire and the builder. He went on to say that should negotiations fail between PLTC and PLTP, replacing the builder is something the concessionaire would initiate. We are hoping both sides find a resolution quickly.

Councilmember Evan Glass reiterated his request for more transparency in the process, especially where timeline and budget are concerned. Councilmember Tom Hucker requested more frequent updates and emphasized that this must “move forward without additional funding from Montgomery County.” Hucker also said that MDOT renegotiated Montgomery County’s contribution at the front end and he has confidence that Secretary Slater will get the support from the Governor because Montgomery Council cannot contribute more. Slater assured the Council that Governor Hogan wants this to be a success and pledged to keep everyone up to date along the way. 

Councilmember Andrew Friedson queried about the proposed timeline and reiterated that he wanted to make sure that the CCT would be able to open if it was safe and ready, even before stations were opened. He went on to say that the trail is just as important as the rail project. Secretary Slater said that opening the trail, at least in portions and when it is safe to do so, is tentatively the plan, but that he would double check and follow up. 

More of the questions can be found on the Council website, as well as the full audio/video of the briefing.

Silver Spring Community Advisory Team

The Silver Spring Community Advisory Team presentation was posted on April 28, 2020 and presented by Gary Witherspoon, MDOT MTA Public Outreach & Communications, Deputy Project Director; Carla Julian, PLTC Sr. Manager Public Affairs/Community Outreach; and Chris McRobbie, PLTC Area 1 Lead Structural Engineer.

The full presentation can be found on the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Administration website. Below, we offer a few highlights from the presentation, but we encourage you to see the presentations for yourselves, especially if you live or work in that particular area.

First, two artist renderings showing what the station may look like when completed:


Rendering courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

Rendering courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

Quite a lot of visible work has been either completed or continues, including the completion of several piers for the LRV bridge and CCT bridge and the erection of the CCT pedestrian bridge structure and LRV girders (across Colesville Road and the Metro Red Line entrance). At the Silver Spring International Middle School, crews have completed the parking lot and traffic circle.


Image courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

Looking ahead six months:

Crews will begin the construction for retaining walls behind the Falkland Apartments – this will be for the LRV bridge approach, as well as along Apple Avenue to Colesville Road for the CCT.

At the Silver Spring Transit Center, the “Level 1” entrance – with signals and crosswalks was slated to be restored this spring, along with the completion of piers 6 and 7 for the LRV bridge across the “Level 2” entrance. See the presentation for a list of the many items that are slated to occur in the next half year in and around the SSTC.

Please note the partial closure of Bonifant Street (East) – the westbound direction will be closed and Bonifant (East) will operate as a one-way street eastbound. You can see very detailed work zone maps in the presentation, so if your daily commute or neighborhood is in Silver Spring, we encourage you to not only to check out those handy work zone maps, but to sign up on the website for alerts, if you haven’t already done so.

Many of you may be interested in the phasing of Wayne Avenue over Sligo Creek. As you may know, Phase 1 is scheduled to begin this summer when traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction and shifted to the south side of Wayne Avenue. There will be no left turn from Wayne Avenue onto Sligo Creek Parkway. (See photo below)


Image courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

Phase 2 will begin later this fall when the remainder of the bridge is constructed. Traffic will then shift to the north side of Wayne Avenue and will be limited to one lane in each direction, while a portion of Sligo Creek Parkway, south of Wayne Avenue will be closed. A detour will be constructed.

Here’s what the final configuration of Wayne Avenue will look like:


Image courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

In the next edition of the Purple Line News, we’ll cover Riverdale Park and Glenridge stations – and then finish up with Lyttonsville, Long Branch, and University Boulevard.

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PURPLE LINE NOW NEWS AND EVENTS

The Next Purple Line NOW Forum: Getting Ready for the First Purple Line Ride

We are working on bringing an online webinar or presentation to you later this summer, so please stay tuned for further details and a date!

Can You Help Purple Line NOW Continue Its Work?

Purple Line NOW still needs your donations during the year and we appreciate every penny donated. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking on the black donate button below. Thank you!

We are grateful for ALL of our donors - thank you, thank you, for stepping up to help Purple Line NOW continue its work!

Get Connected!

Make sure you are signed up for timely alerts from Purple Line NOW via our Twitter and Facebook pages, and at our website Purple Line NOW.


Purple Line NOW News - May 20, 2020

In today's edition of Purple Line NOW News, here's what you'll find:

  • Purple Line in the News
  • Highlights from the College Park Community Advisory Team Presentation

Stay Safe!

All of us here at Purple Line NOW hope that you and your loved ones remain healthy during this pandemic. Please, stay safe!

Share This Newsletter

Please feel free to share this newsletter - no permission from us needed! You can always find a link to our newsletter on our Purple Line NOW website which makes it easy to share with your friends, neighbors, constituents, customers, and employees.

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CONSTRUCTION NEWS TO KNOW

Purple Line in the News

We hope you had a chance to read the letter to the editor in the Washington Post (May 15, 2020) from long time Purple Line supporter Brian Ditzler of Silver Spring. Purple Line NOW will also have an official commentary coming out in the next week, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Make sure you are signed up for timely alerts from Purple Line NOW via our Twitter and Facebook pages, and at our website Purple Line NOW.

Highlights from the College Park Community Advisory Team Presentation

The College Park Community Advisory Team (CAT) presentation was posted on the MDOT MTA website on April 21, 2020. The information for the presentation was provided by Gary Witherspoon, Public Outreach & Communications Deputy Project Director; John Koussis, PLTC Area 3 - Segment 6 - Project Engineer; and Shaquanna Shields, PLTC Communications Supervisor.

With these new CAT meeting presentations comes a series of artist renderings of the stations - not exact replicas, but enough to give us a sense of what the stations may look like. As the slide notes, both the Adelphi Road and College Park metro are center platforms, which means, "the tracks run on either side of the platform with the shelter in the center."


Rendering Courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

As of the date of the presentation, approximately 28% of the construction on the Purple Line is complete -- almost a third done and dusted! You can see the presentation for yourself on their website, but here are some highlights, with thanks to MDOT MTA and PLTP for providing the information to the public.

Starting with Campus Drive West, the ever-present utility relocations have continued, along with storm drain work, and installation of a temporary signal at the intersection of the University Boulevard/Campus Drive and Adelphi Road/Campus Drive intersections. At Campus Drive East, sidewalk demolition has started.

At the University of Maryland, along with the utility relocations, construction has started for the new “M” (while leaving the existing “M” in place for now.) In and around the College Park Metro, the bus loop remains closed and a water line relocation at the station has begun. On River Road, the retaining wall south of the College Park Metro has started and the bridge for the Light Rail over the Anacostia Northeast Branch continued. The girder erection was completed in February.


Slide Courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

Looking ahead to the next six months, the temporary signal installation and traffic shift at University Boulevard and Campus Drive should be completed and Campus Drive (eastbound) between Adelphi Road and Presidential Drive will be widened to make way for the Purple Line station. In and around campus, the new “M” and removal of the existing traffic circle will be completed. Along Campus Drive East, the new pump station construction should be completed this summer and the segment between Paint Branch Trail and River Road will be fully closed to facilitate major road work along that portion.

The following slide details the Campus Drive East detour that was to begin mid-April. The closure will be in effect for approximately 15 weeks with local access (only) permitted.


Slide Courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

We'll be bringing you highlights from other CATs in future newsletters, including Silver Spring, University Boulevard, Riverdale Park, Lyttonsville/Woodside, and Glenridge!

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PURPLE LINE NOW NEWS AND EVENTS

The Next Purple Line NOW Forum: Getting Ready for the First Purple Line Ride

We are working on bringing an online webinar or presentation to you later this summer, so please stay tuned for further details and a date!

Can You Help Purple Line NOW Continue Its Work?

Purple Line NOW still needs your donations during the year and we appreciate every penny donated. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking on the black donate button below. Thank you!

DONATE

We are grateful for ALL of our donors - thank you, thank you, for stepping up to help Purple Line NOW continue its work!

Get Connected!

Make sure you are signed up for timely alerts from Purple Line NOW via our Twitter and Facebook pages, and at our website Purple Line NOW.


Purple Line NOW News - May 7, 2020

In today's edition of Purple Line NOW News, here's what you'll find:

  • What We Know -- Purple Line Construction Status

Stay Safe!

All of us here at Purple Line NOW hope that you and your loved ones remain healthy during this pandemic. Please, stay safe!

Share This Newsletter

Please feel free to share this newsletter - no permission from us needed! You can always find a link to our newsletter on our Purple Line NOW website which makes it easy to share with your friends, neighbors, constituents, customers, and employees.

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CONSTRUCTION NEWS TO KNOW

What is the status of Purple Line construction?

First, the bad news: the current group of firms building the line, the Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC), is threatening to leave the project if they are not granted additional funding and time to accommodate external challenges. If negotiations are not successful, the concessionaire, the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP), would have to find a new firm to lead the construction effort. As you probably know, the current plan is to open the College Park to New Carrollton portion of the line in late 2022 and the section from College Park to Bethesda (via Silver Spring) in 2023. However, last Friday’s news may cast those dates into doubt.

The good news is that, according to the latest round of Community Advisory Team (CAT) presentations, 28% of the construction is now completed. Much of the early work focused on preparing the right of way and utility location, which is particularly challenging in the dense environment along the 16.2-mile Purple Line corridor.

However, there are also many tangible signs of progress, from the excavated Manchester Tunnel to the replacement of the Lyttonsville Bridge, to the soaring elevated track that crosses over Rt. 29 at the Silver Spring station. The railcars themselves have also made progress, with assembly occurring in New York and testing planned for later this year in the Prince George’s county rail yard.

The current round of Community Advisory Team briefings is ongoing, so do check them out to see status updates specific to your community and new renderings of what the line and stations may look like upon completion. We will bring you highlights from those presentation in future newsletters, but for now, if you visit the website, you can view some newly added renderings like the one below of the Bethesda Station we highlighted in our previous newsletter.


Image Courtesy of MDOT MTA and PLTP

For now, here are four questions and answers that may help explain what is happening and what it may mean as we move forward.

Who are the Purple Line Transit Constructors?

The Purple Line is being built by a consortium of private companies that have entered a Public-Private Partnership (P3) arrangement with the state of Maryland. That partnership is contracted to last 36 years and includes the design, build, operations, maintenance, and finance of the Purple Line, but Maryland retains ownership.

The concessionaire (Purple Line Transit Partners or PLTP) employs another team of companies responsible for the design and building of the project. Those builders are called the Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC).

To differentiate these rather similar acronyms, for our purposes here, we will refer to the concessionaire as the Purple Line Transit Partners and the builder as the Purple Line Transit Constructors. The Constructors are also made up of several companies: Fluor, Lane, and Traylor. If the departure of the Purple Line Transit Constructors should go through, the concessionaire would have to find a replacement for the builders' lead contractors, but the P3 arrangement would still be in place. That said, one complication is that one of the builders, Fluor, has a minority (15%) stake in the larger concessionaire, as well. It is not yet clear whether Fluor’s role with the concessionaire, or as a subsequent operator, would change.

Here are two graphics that may help explain the structure.

Source: Glenn Orlin (2013) “Briefing~Purple Line public-private partnership”, p. 4

Source: MTA, Public-Private Partnership-P3

What are the sources of delays and new costs? 

In their letter last week to the state of Maryland, the Purple Line Transit Constructors focused on events that are beyond their control: the suspension for over a year of the Record of Decision that was necessary to receive a critical federal matching grant at the behest of litigious opponents; delays in acquiring the right of way and related easements; changing requirements and slow responses from the CSX freight rail company regarding a crash wall; and finally, alleged changes to the way Maryland enforced environmental rules relating to ponds.

Additionally, according to an article in the Washington Post (April 15, 2020), the builders had warned that delays and costs stemming from COVID-19 related safety measures may lead to a Force Majeure ("Act of God") claim, but that issue was not included in the letter. 

Maryland has disputed some of these criticisms in the past and also argued that, even when external events were clearly to blame, the Purple Line Transit Constructors could have done a better job of adapting to circumstances. Nonetheless, as Katherine Shaver reported in the Washington Post (May 1, 2020), the Maryland Transit Administration has acknowledged the need for negotiations to address delays going back to the lawsuit that prompted delays. Likewise, the Constructors' estimate of $130 million in costs from the lawsuit aligns with MTA’s warnings to Judge Leon of the cost of suspending the Record of Decision.

Why have the negotiations dragged on so long?

The difficulty in negotiations has been reported in prior years and has already led to a new CEO of the concessionaire last year. Some progress has been made – last summer, the state granted a five-month delay, but did not reach any accord on cost relief. According to the concessionaire, as reported in Bethesda Magazine (May 1, 2020), a possible agreement had been reached in December, but has since broken down. Fortunately,  work continued even through those disputes, which has allowed the project to reach that 28% completion mark.

The challenge now is that there is much that a Public-Private Partnership (P3) can do, but contractual incentives on their own cannot entirely overcome the challenges of building things in America (E. Klein, "Why We Can’t Build", Vox, April 2020). P3s try to distribute risk to those that have the best ability to manage it, and the agreement has given Maryland a strong hand to control costs and schedule.

Governor Larry Hogan, before committing to building the project, had prioritized achieving cost reductions. The builders chosen for this project had been part of a team putting in the lowest cost bid and appear to believe that they are at risk of losing more money if they stay on the project than if they leave. This conflict, particularly in shared risk areas, does not play to the strongest points of a P3. As Patrick Sabol and Robert Puentes wrote for the Brookings Institute ("Private Capital, Public Good", December 2014), “[P3]s are rarely the lowest-cost way to procure infrastructure for several reasons… Despite these limitations, a well-structured PPP can deliver better value for the public dollar.”

So, what happens next?

The best-case outcome would be the Purple Line Transit Constructors, the Purple Line Transit Partners, and the state of Maryland come together to complete an agreement that preserves the partnership and maintains good stewardship over public funds. The 60- to 90-day departure window means that time is short, but much of the groundwork has been already laid.

In the meantime, reporters will continue to cover the issue and to see whether either side is being intransigent or is making unrealistic cost claims. Replacing the Purple Line Transit Constructors will take time and, given the roughly half a billion-dollar gap between the concessionaire’s bid and those of other competitors, whether the current builder is retained or a new builder is selected, costs will likely rise.

However, the progress that the Purple Line Transit Constructors has already made, combined with commitments by the Governor, the Maryland Transit Administration, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, and the Purple Line Transit Partners, mean that while this disagreement is a threat to the project schedule, if handled properly, should not endanger the project itself. The concessionaire’s search for potential new builders will also inform the ongoing negotiations. If other vendors are eager to step in, that would strengthen Maryland’s hand. Alternatively, if other vendors are hesitant, that would give greater weight to the figures cited by the current builder.

In the meantime, Purple Line NOW calls on all parties to resolve this longstanding dispute and focus on delivering the best value for the people of Maryland.

 

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PURPLE LINE NOW NEWS AND EVENTS

The Next Purple Line NOW Forum: Getting Ready for the First Purple Line Ride

We are working on bringing an online webinar or presentation to you later this summer, so please stay tuned for further details and a date!

Can You Help Purple Line NOW Continue Its Work?

Purple Line NOW still needs your donations during the year and we appreciate every penny donated. If you would like to make a donation, you can do so by clicking on the black donate button below. Thank you!

DONATE

We are grateful for ALL of our donors - thank you, thank you, for stepping up to help Purple Line NOW continue its work!

Get Connected!

Make sure you are signed up for timely alerts from Purple Line NOW via our Twitter and Facebook pages, and at our website Purple Line NOW.


Great News! Trail Tunnel Will Be Funded in Downtown Bethesda!

Some great news came our way today and we wanted to share it with you as soon as possible!

Yesterday, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved the funding needed to build the trail tunnel for bikers and pedestrians. The tunnel, which will run adjacent to the Purple Line, will carry a price tag of $54.9 million and open in 2026, three years after the light rail begins operation in order to accommodate budget funding already targeted for school construction.

While the delay in completion is unfortunate, we appreciate the Council's resolve in seeing this through and its approval is heartening and justified.

Purple Line NOW has been working behind the scenes to advocate for the tunnel and we were happy to co-sign a letter along with a number of other advocacy organizations urging the Council to fully fund the Capital Crescent Trail tunnel under Wisconsin Avenue.

We know many of you helped in that effort. Thank you to everyone who contacted their Councilmember on behalf of the tunnel -- they heard you! And, thank you to the Montgomery County Council for recognizing how important the tunnel is to our region.

Have a safe and happy weekend!



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