With federal funding secured, construction on Maryland’s Purple Line light rail project is set to begin this fall in the suburbs north of Washington, D.C.
When completed in 2022, the 16-mile Purple Line will provide the region with its first circumferential link connecting to the Washington, D.C. Metro system. The route includes 21 stations between Bethesda and New Carrollton, connecting passengers to several business districts and activity centers, including the University of Maryland. It is the state’s first public-private partnership (P3) for a surface transportation project in Maryland and also the state’s largest P3 to date.
The project involves the integration of a light rail network into densely developed inner-ring suburbs, and traverses a wide range of land uses, from established residential communities to thriving commercial areas. The line will serve as a major connector to other transit in the region, including Washington D.C.’s Metrorail system, MARC [Maryland Area Regional Commuter] rail system, and Amtrak services along its Northeast Corridor connection at New Carrolton.
The line is expected to provide significant travel time savings. In one segment of the corridor, a bus trip that would take 40 minutes during peak traffic hours would take an estimated nine minutes on the Purple Line.
“The Purple Line has long been a transportation priority for the Southern Maryland/Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, spanning multiple gubernatorial administrations,” said Deborah Brown, director of the alternative delivery advisory team for WSP.
WSP is part of Maryland Transit Partners, a joint venture serving as the program management consultant WSP provided numerous services and guidance during the critical procurement and financing stages to secure federal funding for the $2.4 billion project.
In early 2015, as the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and MTA prepared to invite firms to submit proposals, concerns about cost threatened to derail the project. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan put the Purple Line project on hold from January through May of 2015 to study the cost as well as the need for such a project.
“Once Gov. Hogan gave project procurement the green light to advance, our firm supported the MTA/MDOT team in delivering on his mandate to cut costs and complete a very aggressive schedule,” Brown said. “Adherence to this schedule was critical in order to preserve the project funding and financing commitments.”
Among the tasks performed by WSP were final revisions to the procurement documents, receiving and evaluating four qualified proposals, and making a final selection and recommendation by the end of 2015.
“In order to complete the aggressive review and evaluation schedule, it was necessary to augment the team with additional consultant support and get everyone trained on the project and process for review and evaluation and keep all on schedule,” Brown said.
Despite the delay, the procurement team successfully closed the project agreement on schedule, secured final administrative approval, and closed the financial agreement in June.
The next step for the Purple Line will be the start of construction activities in the fall. WSP will provide continued support to the client as the project progresses through final design and construction.
For Brown, who joined WSP in 2014 and began working on the Purple Line project that November, the experience was extremely rewarding.
“Most of my career has been spent working in the public sector at the Virginia Department of Transportation and it has always given me a huge sense of accomplishment to be a part of delivering major infrastructure improvements that will benefit the travelling public,” Brown said. “The Purple Line project was the first time I had the opportunity to directly contribute to the success of a transit project.”
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