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Just weeks after work on the Purple Line ground to a halt in the wake of a bitter, years-long financial dispute, the state Department of Transportation announced on Friday that it has assumed numerous key construction contracts.
The move is the first tangible sign that MDOT intends to make good on its promise to jump-start the 16.5-mile project, despite the demise of the agency’s relationship with the financing consortium, Purple Line Transit Partners, and its primary subcontractor, Purple Line Transit Constructors, last month.
Despite the assumption of contracts, the state’s Transportation secretary insisted that MDOT is “committed” to ongoing negotiations to bring PLTP back to the project. A dispute over nearly $800 million in cost overruns led the firm to exercise its right to walk away with the line partially built.
The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officially took over day-to-day management of the project on Sept. 28. MDOT senior official Matthew Pollack is now serving as Purple Line executive director for the agency.
“MDOT and MTA have assumed the Purple Line’s key contracts and hundreds of subcontracts to continue the delivery of the Purple Line, “ said MDOT spokeswoman Erin Henson in a statement.
She said the contracts assumed by the state include light rail car manufacturing, operations and maintenance, 233 design and construction contracts and six commercial leases and licenses.
Last week PLTP entered a forbearance agreement with its lenders, a move that allowed the firm to make a $7.8 million debt payment that was due on Sept. 30. The agreement, which runs until the end of October, appeared intended to give the state and the consortium a final chance to resolve their stalemate.
PLTC’s decision to sever its relationship with the state and abandon the project has left numerous torn-up roads and sidewalks across Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, sparking fear that the sites could remain as eyesores for months.
Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D) called MDOT’s assumption of contracts “welcome news” and “further evidence of momentum.”
“There are many things that could go wrong still and a lot of challenges ahead, but I’m glad to see recent evidence of renewed commitment by MTA to get this done,” he added. “My constituents and the folks in Prince George’s are very concerned about the recent developments.”
Greg Sanders, vice president of Purple Line NOW, a citizens group, said the state’s decision to move forward with the project could boost prospects for a settlement.
“Sometimes, if you can show that you have a credible alternative, it can be a little easier to reach a fair agreement,” he said. “Ideally the two will work together, and if they don’t, good to have a Plan B that’s actually coming into place.”
In a statement, Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said, “We are committed to working collaboratively with all members of the community as we advance this project.”
“While the state is committed to on-going negotiations, we have to continue to deliver the Purple Line for the citizens of Maryland and protect the state’s interest, which includes ensuring construction continues.”
WTOP Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version for clarity by Maryland Matters.