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Maryland picks company to build $5.6 billion Purple Line

State officials have picked a private consortium led by three companies to build and run the Purple Line to connect Maryland's Washington suburbs.

The 36-year, $5.6 billion deal with Purple Line Transit Partners, announced Wednesday by the Hogan administration, is Maryland's largest public-private partnership by far. It grants the consortium responsibility to design, finance, construct and operate the 16-mile light rail line.

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The contract is to be presented to the state Board of Public Works for approval in April. Construction would begin by the end of this year; the line would begin operating no later than spring 2022.

The line would run from New Carrollton in Prince George's County through the University of Maryland to Bethesda in Montgomery County.

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In announcing the winning bid, administration officials said Purple Line Transit Partners promised to complete the project for less than Gov. Larry Hogan was willing to spend.

The state would pay Purple Line Transit Partners about $150 million a year to operate, finance and maintain the project. The consortium would pick up any other costs.

Hogan's election in 2014 had threatened the project. During the campaign and later, in office, the Republican governor questioned whether it was worth the expense.

He canceled the Red Line light rail project proposed for Baltimore, but agreed to move forward with the Purple Line if local governments picked up more of the cost and the company selected to build and run the line could do it more cheaply than previously estimated.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said Wednesday that the project — financing, construction and operation — would cost about $550 million less than the administration had projected. Rahn said he could not say whether construction would cost more or less than the previously estimated $2.2 billion.

Officials said Maryland's upfront construction costs would be $158 million. Montgomery and Prince George's counties together have pledged $300 million toward the project. State officials expect the federal government to pay $900 million, much of it already authorized by Congress.

The Purple Line project is believed to be among the largest public-private partnerships in the country. Maryland's other marquee public-private partnership is a 50-year, $1.8 billion deal to dredge the port of Baltimore to accommodate larger ships coming from the Panama Canal.

The Purple Line Transit Partnership is led by the firms Fluor Corp., Meridiam and Star America.

State lawmakers have been debating transportation spending in recent weeks. Democratic leaders of the General Assembly detailed a plan last month that would restrict the governor's power to decide which transportation projects are funded.

Lawmakers have questioned the cancellation of the Red Line and Hogan's decision to shift money toward highway projects. Democrats said a scoring system implemented by the legislation would create transparency and require the governor to explain his funding choices.

Republican lawmakers called the bill an attempt to undermine the executive branch's authority to make transportation decisions.

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