The state ethics board is reviewing one of the firms bidding to build and operate the Purple Line after the engineering company was acquired by another MTA contractor.
Engineering design firm AECOM, which in 2011 was awarded an 8-year, $60-million contract with the MTA to oversee the Purple Line and the proposed Red Line in Baltimore, among other projects, announced in July that it had reached an agreement to acquire engineering and construction firm URS Corp.
URS Corp. is the lead design company for a group known as the Maryland Purple Line Partners, one of four groups that have been short-listed by the state to submit proposals for what will be a public-private partnership with the state to build the transit line linking Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
If a conflict is found, the Purple Line Partners could have to scramble to find a new design firm months before its final proposal is due.
When asked about the estimated $6 billion AECOM acquisition of URS on Friday, MTA spokeswoman Paulette Austrich said that Maryland Purple Line Partners is "seeking guidance" on the acquisition from the Maryland State Ethics Commission, and that the MTA is awaiting that guidance in its own review of the arrangement as well.
The $2.4 billion Purple Line is a top priority of the Maryland Department of Transportation that relies on major investments from the local counties, the state and the federal government. The private partner in the project is expected to contribute between $500 million and $900 million to the project in exchange for a long-term operations and maintenance contract with the state.
The 16-mile transit line would connect to the Washington metro system and include 21 stations between Bethesda and New Carrollton. The MTA selected the four short-listed companies to submit proposals in January.
If a AECOM-URS conflict is identified, Maryland Purple Line Partners would have until Dec. 5, or about a month prior to the Jan. 9 deadline for final proposal submissions, to replace URS, Austrich said.
David Sikorski, of VINCI Concessions S.A.S., an equity member of the group, declined to comment on the ethics review on Friday. Sikorski is the listed contact for the group in state records.
Paul Dickard, a spokesman for AECOM, said he was not personally aware of the ethics review, but that AECOM is evaluating its projects across the country for any potential or perceived conflicts based on its acquisition of URS.
"We're committed to working with our clients to address their concerns," he said. "We want to make sure we're doing what's proper."
Michael W. Lord, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said he could not confirm or deny that the commission is providing guidance to the Maryland Purple Line Partners or to AECOM.
"We're not allowed by law or by regulation or by policy to comment on any advice that we may or may not be giving to individuals," he said.
The commission publishing its findings when it enters a "formal advisory opinion process," Lord said, but most of its guidance is provided on an informal basis, and it doesn't publish its guidance in those instances.
In formal reviews, the commission has 60 days to offer an opinion, though that can be extended if the interested parties agree to a delay, Lord said. In informal reviews, there is no strict deadline but the commission still considers 60 days its "target," he said.