The scheduled completion target of fall 2026 for Maryland’s $3.4-billion Purple Line light rail project has been pushed back yet again, with protracted utility relocation work potentially pushing operation of the already-delayed project to mid-2027 for its new construction team.
According to the latest construction progress report to project bondholders, dated last Nov. 30, and posted a month later, efforts to address the complex web of utility systems along the 16.2-mile route across two suburban counties of Washington, D.C. have slowed progress by Maryland Transit Solutions (MTS), a design-build consortium led by Dragados and OHLA that took over the project in late 2021 following the negotiated departure of the original Fluor-led team in fall 2020.
At the time, the project—originally budgeted at $2 billion—had fallen several years behind schedule and was beset with cost overruns.
The new delay comes as newly elected Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) names industry veteran Paul Wiedefeld as state transportation secretary. He retired in May 2022 as general manager and CEO of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and previously held executive roles in state transportation agencies and at Parsons Brinckerhoff and HDR.
While the Purple Line Transit Partners development consortium sought a new construction partner, Maryland Transit Administration, the owner of the project, oversaw a scaled-back construction effort that included design refinements and utility work. Although the consortium stated in April 2022 that the progress would allow the new contractor to ramp up quickly and potentially resume full-scale construction within six months, the remaining utility work has proven problematic, adding 218 days to the revised project schedule.
According to the report to bondholders, the consortium and state agencies formed a “Tiger Team” focused on mitigating the issues, assessing cost impacts and reducing the delay. The report cites examples of coordinating relocation of several existing services located on a single utility pole in a particular order, and each utility having its own relocation request process. Relocation of above ground and underground utilities at a major Verizon-owned facility located midway along the route is also taking more time than expected, the report says.
“Current mitigation focus is on re-phasing of work, alteration of simple-station foundation design for accelerated construction, and deployment of additional resources to accelerate work,” the report says. “The mitigation plan and corresponding impacts will be shared as they are implemented.”
The report also notes project elements being “closely managed” by the design-build team, including completion of yard track installation and overhead catenary systems at the Purple Line’s operations and maintenance facility as it prepares to deliver light-rail vehicles, complete the test track for testing and commissioning of the light-rail system, comply with the maintenance of traffic requirements and work restrictions and identify areas for improvement in construction sequencing.
A statement issued by the Maryland Department of Transportation noted the challenges inherent in building a complex transportation project through a densely developed corridor.
“The Purple Line team is committed to developing and implementing solutions to address the challenges inherent on a project of this size, scope and magnitude,” the statement added.