Controversy over delayed Purple Line

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After years of harsh complaints and multiple legal battles, the construction of Maryland’s Purple Line on the Metro seems to finally be on track… to open one year behind schedule.

Back in 2016, the contract for Maryland’s Purple Line was approved; the 16.2 mile long light-rail was set to have twenty-one stations connecting Metro stops from Bethesda to New Carrollton, providing passengers easier transit service and access to jobs. Construction began in late 2016 and service was scheduled to open in March 2022.

Recently, the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) reported to the state that the light-rail will not be carrying passengers until February 2023, under the condition that work continues to accelerate. That’s almost a year behind the original opening date listed in the contract and four months behind the October 2022 date that Maryland transit officials claim is still possible, according to reports obtained by The Washington Post through public record requests.

Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D) said he would be “very disappointed” if the line’s opening is pushed beyond fall 2022, like the Maryland Transportation Association (MTA) had initially promised.

“I’d expect [state officials] would notify us if there is going to be delays, rather than just put it in a report,” Hucker said.

Maryland transportation officials rejected the February 2023 opening date because they believe the contractor can do more to accelerate construction. However, construction officials claim they are doing all they can to speed up the process, including working throughout the night, which wakes nearby residents.

“We regret that it’s disruptive. At this point, the state is not prepared to stop work or [delay] the contractor to not go on for 24 hours at the tunnel because that’s necessary to meet the schedule,” Mike Madden, MTA’s deputy project director said.

The contractor claims that the state has contributed to the delays by taking too long to review documents for environmental protection measures, while the MTA blames delays on the PLTP for taking an extended period of time to finish the design.

“I have family that lives right near one of the construction sites,” WJ freshman Julia Beato says. “They don’t have young children but they have a dog and it’s really difficult for them to get adequate sleep while the loud construction is taking place.”

According to project documents, the delays have added at least $215 million to the project’s construction budget. PLTP and the state signed a $5.6 billion contract, which is one of the largest ever in Maryland. No matter the timeline, both the PLTP and the state have agreed to finance, operate and maintain the line for 30 years.

The Purple Line is one of the first U.S. rail projects to connect suburbs without requiring riders to travel through a city center. Maryland officials say it will provide faster and more reliable east-west transit than buses.

“It’s going to be nice to travel from College Park to other places around Maryland, but I just wish the delays would stop so it can finally open to the public,” WJ senior Talya Horn said.

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