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Purple Line rail proposals delayed

Officials want noise abatements on $2.37B project

State Department of Transportation officials have delayed the next phase in selecting a partner to help build the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Four prequalified private-sector teams had been expected to begin the request for proposal process on the $2.37 billion light rail project earlier this month. That has been delayed until late July.

The delay comes even as community groups and elected officials raise concerns about how the project will affect communities along the 16-mile project. Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett said affected residents in his county want additional noise and vibration mitigation and understand those efforts could potentially increase the cost of the project currently estimated at $2.37 billion.

Henry Kay, executive director of transit development and delivery for the Mass Transit Administration, said the delay would “allow additional time for the development of the RFP to give us time to finalize agreements and financial contributions from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.”

Included in those agreements would be issues related to right of way, coordinated permit review with the affected counties and infrastructure construction.

Kay added that the state is also reviewing “commercial issues” such as required insurance and defining circumstances where the private-sector partner “would be excused from performance, such as extreme weather.”

Kay said the delay will push back the timeline to receive responses to late January but should not postpone the awarding of a contract, expected next summer.

Leggett said he also wants the state to look at how to mitigate noise and vibrations in communities once the rail line is operational.

In March, the Federal Transit Administration found that the project as conceived by the state would fall within federal standards for noise and vibration.

The proposed project will include 21 stations along a 16-mile line that connects New Carrollton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County.

Maryland would be just the second state to build a transportation project using the “P3” process that partners the state with a conglomerate of private partners, including transportation, construction and financing companies. In return for footing some of the startup costs, the winning bidder will be paid an annual fee to operate and maintain the project over 30 to 40 years.

The cost of the Purple Line would include federal and state money as well as $500 million to $900 million from the private-sector team that wins the bid.

The $2.37 billion estimated price tag is nearly double the original estimate. It would now be almost as expensive as the $2.5 billion Woodrow Wilson Bridge project but less costly than the proposed Cove Point liquid natural gas export facility, which is expected to cost between $3.4 billion and $3.8 billion.

Kay said the state is “refining performance incentives during construction for issues such as noise, vibration, maintenance of clean work sites and advance notice to the public. Additional time also allows MTA to make further progress on right-of-way acquisition.”

Leggett and Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. met with state transportation officials last month before the request for proposal was delayed. The purpose of the meeting was to press the state to find additional solutions to mitigate noise and vibration and other aesthetic issues, Leggett said.

“They may have met the federal standards, but can you find ways to further reduce that?” Leggett said. “Maybe they can find ways to incentivize contractors to find creative ways to reduce the noise by giving them additional points on their proposal before the contract is awarded.”

“Clearly, that may be an added cost, but citizens’ concerns should be a factor,” said Leggett.

A spokesman for Van Hollen said the congressman “participated in the meeting to ensure that Montgomery County residents from the impacted neighborhoods have the opportunity to have their concerns heard and mitigated as development of the Purple Line moves forward. Congressman Van Hollen believes that it’s important that the state ensure that the process of community engagement and mitigation continues once a vendor is selected.”

The Purple Line delay comes around the same time that the state similarly delayed the Red Line P3 project that will run through Baltimore after both Baltimore city and county failed to meet a deadline to file a report on how much each jurisdiction expected to contribute to the project.