Daily talks underway in hopes of preventing Purple Line builders from quitting

Maryland transportation leaders say they are negotiating daily with the builders of the Purple Line in hopes of preventing them from leaving the project.

“There are conversations daily. There are multiple conversations on some days, and they’re very productive,”  Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater told the Montgomery County Council Thursday.

Purple Line Transit Constructors (PLTC), the group in charge of designing and building the 16.2- mile light rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, gave notice May 1 that it was planning to leave the public-private partnership with Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP).

PLTC said legal issues have added long delays and increased costs to the project, so it’s asking for an extra $519 million.

“It was distressing and felt unprofessional to find out about it from reporters, rather than from you all,” Council Vice President Tom Hucker told Slater and Maryland Transit Administrator Kevin Quinn.

Slater responded that the state did not know the announcement was coming.

Council member Evan Glass said Montgomery County has contributed about $225 million to the project and that county taxpayers deserve to know more about how the money is being used.

“Unfortunately, I think the public is being left in the dark, and what this partnership needs is oversight and accountability,” he said.

Quinn agreed that the state can work to be more transparent, but Slater said, “In these ongoing settlement discussions, you have agreements and you have disagreements, but it’s important that you keep some level of confidentiality so that people can talk freely.”

Asked if the project remains on budget, Quinn said: “Sitting here today, yes. I’d say it largely is. I think it’s these claims that are outside, and that’s what’s got to be resolved. And that’s what we’re in the process of negotiating right now.”

PLTC said in its May 1 news release that it planned an “orderly transition” out of the project and that the process would take 60 to 90 days. First, PLTP has until June 20 to respond to PLTC.

Quinn said the Purple Line remains on schedule to open in two phases. In Phase One, six stations between New Carrollton and College Park would open in December 2022. Phase Two — the opening of the remaining 15 stations — is still set for mid-2023.

Slater said construction has not been interrupted as talks progress.

“We’ve absolutely been engaged in completing this project, and we have every confidence that we’re going to be producing here a light rail system that’s going to meet the high standards of MTA, and the citizens of Maryland and Montgomery County,” Quinn said.

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Michelle Basch

Michelle Basch is a reporter turned morning anchor at WTOP News.

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