Purple Line delays push opening date back a year

SILVER SPRING, Md. — The Purple Line won’t open until 2021 and will cost Montgomery County taxpayers an additional $50 million, Council President George Leventhal said Tuesday.

Leventhal made the announcement during the Action Committee for Transit’s July meeting.

“It will take five years to build this 16-mile system. The state has announced it’s going to be reviewing bids from concessionaires in November. That will get us beyond construction season in 2015, so construction won’t be able to begin in 2016.”

Some Purple Line supporters were hoping it would open in 2020 as originally planned.

“Hearing it will open in 2021 is hardly a surprise because the project bid dates have already slipped 10 months,” says Nick Brand, President of the Action Committee for Transit. “You deal with the hand that you have in front of you. This seems like a reasonable time frame for a project as big as this.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan approved the project in June with the caveat that the state would only contribute $168 million, instead of the $700 million planned under the O’Malley administration.  It leaves more than a $500 million gap to be solved through cost cuts and more funding from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Last month, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker told WTOP that he is unwilling to spend more than $120 million on the project. However, Baker might be willing to negotiate on the issue, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

“We had always anticipated each county would need to contribute $120 million,” Leventhal says. “The governor indicates that he’s going to be asking Montgomery County for another $50 million.

“We’ll be discussing how to identify $50 million additional.  But $50 million is doable.”

Some of the $50 million could be raised through a special tax assessment on commercial property owners and home developers near the Purple Line.

“It’s reasonable that those who will realize significant profit from the proximity of the light rail ought to contribute to constructing it.”

The gap can be closed through cost cutting, also known as the “skinny option” among insiders. Last month, the Hogan administration released a list of reductions that could lessen the project’s cost. Among those would be eliminating one of the two elevators from the stations at Chevy Chase Lake, Silver Spring Transit Center and Manchester Place.

“None of them are a deal breaker, but we need to be smart and efficient,” Leventhal said.

“We should not have short-term cost savings that lead to long-term increased costs. So elevators are very important for ridership, especially for elderly and disabled riders. This is an issue that we would want to negotiate.”

Other items on the list increase the time between trains, during rush hour, to 7 1/2 minutes from six minutes. Another would cut the art budget in half.

“I don’t think there is anything on the list that jeopardizes the long-term viability of the Purple Line,” Brand says. “If there were, it would be a serious problem, but I don’t think there is. Having to cut the art budget is unfortunate, but I’m sure we’ll still get an aesthetically pleasing line.”

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up