Montgomery Co. Council questions rising Purple Line cost

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County leaders grilled state officials Monday about the latest cost estimates for the proposed Purple Line that would have the county contribute more to the $2.4 billion light rail line.

The briefing with state officials comes just days before the project goes before a state board for a critical contracting vote and weeks after Montgomery County Council members griped about changes to the county’s share of the construction costs last month. Officials from the Maryland Transit Administration along with the county’s Department of Transportation outlined some of the changes to the project, but several council members focused on the rising price tag.

“I want to go back to the money,” said Councilman Craig Rice. “I’m really trying to understand exactly what it is we’re on the hook for,” he told MTA officials.

Mike Madden, the Purple Line study manager; Jamie Kendrick, director of infrastructure and integration; and Charles Latucca, director of the Office of Transit Development and Delivery with the MTA, all fielded questions from the council and explained that the county’s share would come in at $210 million — excluding any changes or delays.

Prince George’s County expects to contribute $120 million to the project.

The 16-mile light rail line would connect the two counties and include 21 stops including four at Metro stations.

Rice questioned the state’s insistence on finding savings through “value engineering.”

“That always sounds good. It’s just a sexy way of saying ‘I’m gonna cut corners and just not give you the same amount of service’,” Rice said.

State officials cut the total cost of the Purple Line by $225 million, but the cost to Montgomery County went up by nearly $14 million as the state developed designs for the Bethesda Metro South entrance.

Some of the savings were found by changing the design of the light rail station at the Silver Spring Transit Center. The height of the Purple Line station was lowered so it would be even with the upper level of the main transit center.

Councilman George Leventhal, an ardent supporter of the Purple Line project, called some of the changes proposed to the Silver Spring Transit Center “pretty persuasive.”

Levanthal also asked about posting signs at future Purple Line stations as the construction progresses so that the public could see how the light rail line would be laid out.

State officials told that the council that community advisory teams would update local neighborhoods on the project’s progress. But Councilman Tom Hucker suggested a countywide briefing, saying that a broader presentation would help all county residents gain a better understanding of the progress of the project.

Wednesday, the Maryland Board of Public Works will vote on the 2,000-page contract for the Purple Line project. A team of private companies, collectively called Purple Line Transit Partners, led by Fluor Enterprises, was selected to build, operate and maintain the light rail line.

Construction could begin later this year with passenger service slated to begin in 2022.

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