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!

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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!

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