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Maryland transit officials seek $183 million for consultants on delayed Purple Line construction

Maryland transit officials are asking for $183.5 million for consultants to continue overseeing some contracts left behind on the delayed Purple Line project after the lead construction contractor quit last fall.

Funding for managing construction contracts is already in the project’s $2 billion budget, officials said. However, that role will now go to state consultants who have continued some of that work while the private consortium managing the project replaces its construction team, officials said.

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The additional oversight work was supposed to have been done by the team initially hired to design and build the line, said Erin Henson, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation.

The consultants “have taken on an even more significant role since the departure of the design-build contractor, which has allowed the state to continue critical work on the project during this interim period,” Henson said in an email.

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The continuing work includes manufacturing the light-rail vehicles and moving utility lines.

Under the Maryland Transit Administration’s request to the Board of Public Works, the end of the consulting contract would be extended from mid-2023 to mid-2027 — the first time the MTA has signaled that the line’s completion is potentially four years behind schedule. The line was initially scheduled to begin carrying passengers in March 2022, but the consulting contract would extend about a year beyond any opening date.

However, Henson played down that timing, saying the Purple Line won’t have a new construction schedule and opening date until a new design-build team is chosen. She said the state is seeking the consulting contract extension to “ensure proper oversight” until after the line begins operating, but the team’s work “may very well not go through” 2027.

Major construction on the 16-mile rail line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties stalled in September after the lead contractor quit over years of delay-related cost disputes with the state and left behind a string of mostly abandoned construction sites. Construction is about 40 percent done, a state project official said recently.

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The Board of Public Works — composed of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp — is scheduled to consider the consulting contract extension Wednesday.

The Purple Line’s delays and cost overruns have come under scrutiny because it’s the first U.S. light-rail line to be built under a public-private partnership that relies on private financing.

After the construction team quit, the state agreed to a $250 million legal settlement to salvage the broader 36-year partnership with a consortium of companies called Purple Line Transit Partners. The private consortium has said it plans to have a new construction team onboard in September.

Del. Marc A. Korman (D-Montgomery), chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation and the environment, said he expects the Purple Line costs to mount as the private consortium secures a new construction team.

“We don’t know the true costs yet,” Korman said.

In their request to the Board of Public Works, which must approve major state contracts, MTA officials said their consultants have “taken on an extremely high workload” to keep some work moving. The $215 million that had been budgeted to last until mid-2023 is almost exhausted, MTA officials wrote, because it was “used at a faster pace” during the contract dispute.

If approved, the contract extension would bring to $398.5 million the total paid or allocated to the project management consultant, MTA said. The consultants are a joint venture of engineering firms AECOM and RK&K, and consulting firm WSP, Henson said.

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