Despite a failed legal effort to keep its disgruntled private development partner on the job, Maryland transportation officials will start by mid-October the state's "short term" approach to completing the $2-billion Purple Line light rail across Washington D.C.'s northern suburbs. But it may be next spring before a construction path forward comes into focus for the much disputed and disrupted P3 project.
Keith Quinn, chief of the Maryland Transit Administration said in a Sept. 15 briefing to municipal officials that when the transition from Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP) is complete in mid-October, the agency should be prepared to manage a scaled-back effort on its own.
He also noted that several contractors have expressed interest in taking over the project, but did not disclose their identities.
Specific tasks and jobsites will depend in part on which subcontractors and suppliers elect to continue working for the state under existing contracts.
Key factors include work that has the biggest public "impact," resolves "overall" schedule delays, can be done by a single contractor and "reduces cost uncertainty for the next P3 entity," says Erin Henson, spokesperson for the state DOT. although she adds that the state may not choose the P3 option in recontracting, instead opting for design-build-operate-maintain (DBOM), design-build only or a general contracting approach.
The state is focusing on design completion, utility relocation, wall construction and other tasks in its short term planning
The transition follows a Sept. 10 state court ruling that upheld the right of the P3 consortium, made up of Fluor Corp., Meridiam and Star America, to withdraw from the project as a result of delays they say exceed their contract terms.
The scheduled project 2022 completion date is set back by more than two years.
Quinn's comments came on the same day that the developer team sued the state in Baltimore City Circuit Court for breach of contract, seeking $100 million over claimed delay payments, as a counterclaim to MTA's August lawsuit seeking $75 million after the P3 group announced it would leave the project over the delays and cost overruns estimated at nearly $800 million.
The move followed the August rejection of two PLTP claims by Maryland Transportation Secretary Greg Slater under the project’s dispute resolution process.
In its latest filing, PLTP accuses MTA of requiring its design-build team—led also by Fluor and including Lane Construction and Traylor Bros. Construction—to “mask” schedule delays in 2016 and early 2017, when construction on the 16-mile light-rail line was stymied by a legal challenge to the project’s environmental permit.
In addition to its request for contractors to provide unrealistic completion dates, the lawsuit claims MTA had yet to acquire dozens of land parcels necessary for utility relocations. The project was finally cleared to begin construction in August 2017.
Henson disputed merits of PLTP’s lawsuit and reasserted the state’s commitment to completing the Purple Line and protecting the state’s interests. A PLTP spokesperson did not further comment on the lawsuit.
The latest project actions follow the Sept. 14 expiration of a temporary restraining order from the Baltimore court that had blocked PLTP’s departure, allowing it and the design-build team to begin securing project sites along the route across two counties.
Despite the court duel, MTA has publicly left the door open to reconciling with PLTP
But the developer transition also includes an assessment to determine what project elements should be carried through to completion, such as pouring concrete for a bridge deck.
Long Term Plan
Acknowledging the numerous stumbling blocks that lay ahead, Quinn insisted that “in the long term, we are going to deliver this project to the state of Maryland, and we’re going to deliver it efficiently.”
Funding will play a role in shaping the timing and scope of MTA’s strategy.
Previous statements by agency officials have indicated that until a long-term financing plan is in place, resources would have to shift from other MTA programs serving metropolitan Washington and Baltimore, since PLTP was set to finance the estimated $1 billion worth of construction yet to complete.
Absent a negotiated settlement with PLTP regarding demobilization costs as well as existing overruns, MTA would likely face a renewed court battle as well.
“The plan would be to make the sites safe and secure for turnover to the state, excepting completion of a few items that would be counterproductive to stop midstream,” the consortium said in a statement.
Despite months of unsuccessful negotiations over responsibility for cost overruns, neither PLTP nor the state have publicly ruled out reconciliation and a new agreement, with outside mediation noted as an approach.