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State hopes for resolution on dispute that could stall Purple Line

State Highway Administration administrator Greg Slater stands among screens that monitor traffic flows. (Bryan P. Sears)

State Highway Administration administrator Greg Slater stands among screens that monitor traffic flows. Slater expressed hope for a resolution between the state and the private consortium overseeing the construction of the Purple Line. (Bryan P. Sears/File photo)

One of the state’s most ambitious public transportation projects is just weeks away from collapse as the state and a private consortium battle over cost overruns.

State transportation officials express hope for a resolution with a private consortium that would allow for the completion of the Purple Line transit project.

“We’re going to continue to push forward,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater. “But I can assure you that we intend to have those conversations and intend to try and move the ball forward to bring this project to a successful completion but also vigorously protect the interest of the citizens of the state in this project and make sure that we get a good fair resolution that doesn’t have us back here in a few months from now at the same time.”

Slater’s update during the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday came in response to questions from Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Takoma Park resident.

“Obviously if we lost that project, if people walked off it, it would have a devastating impact on the region,” said Franchot. “I’m just hopeful that everything works out.”

A spokesman for Purple Line Transit Partners declined comment.

Slater said the “terms of the state’s agreement with (Purple Line Transit Partners) are pretty clear. They are responsible for ensuring that construction continues on this project and that it continues moving.”

Under the terms of the partnership, the Purple Line Transit Partners consortium was to build and maintain the 16-mile light rail line that would connect New Carrollton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County. The state would make annual payments to the consortium, which is comprised of Meridiam, Fluor and Star America, over the length of the agreement.

Delays and cost overruns have mounted. In May Purple Line Transit Partners notified the state that it would withdraw from the partnership in 60 days.

“We don’t believe they had the right to file for termination,” said Slater, adding that the state has countered with a notice of default.

That notice gives the state the ability to challenge the consortium’s attempt to walk away from the partnership.

Gov. Larry Hogan and then  Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn gave the Purple Line the go-ahead in 2015 at the same time they mothballed a more expensive project in Baltimore. Hogan at the time called the proposed $2.9 billion Red Line project that would have connected East Baltimore to Western Baltimore County “a wasteful boondoggle.”

Failure between the state and Purple Line Transit Partners to reach an agreement by Aug. 22 could leave the state with a project that is less than half complete, no contractor and no financing.

“I’m happy to be supportive, Mr. Secretary, of whatever you recommend,” said Franchot. “I probably shouldn’t say that in advance because it’s a blank check.”

A resolution could potentially cost the state hundreds of millions.

“I’m just hopeful everything works out,” said Franchot. “Functional adults need to work together on this one.”

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