Construction has begun on Maryland’s Purple Line, a light rail transit line that will run inside the Capital Beltway north of Washington, D.C.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in Hyattsville, Maryland on Aug. 28, attended by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and other government officials and project leaders. Construction began immediately following the ceremony.
WSP is part of a joint venture, known as Purple Line Transit Partners, that serves as program management consultant for the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT)/Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) project.
“WSP is serving as an extension of the owner’s staff in managing and overseeing the implementation of the project,” said Monica Meade, planning and outreach manager for the project. Meade was among the WSP representatives that attended the groundbreaking ceremony, along with Jameelah Ingram, Jestine Jefferson, Dayana Perez, Raghuvir Patel, Marco Avila, Brian Shell and several others.
The Purple Line will run between Bethesda and New Carrollton with 21 stations along the 16-mile route, serving Silver Spring, Takoma-Langley Park, College Park/University of Maryland along the way. The new line will connect with four branches of Washington D.C.’s Metrorail, three lines of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) commuter rail system, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and several local bus services.
Highly congested roadways, increasing commuting times and less-reliable bus service slowed down by traffic congestion are a few of the current challenges commuters face every day in the region.
“As the number of people and jobs in the corridor continues to grow, more people are traveling east-to-west and vice-versa,” Meade said. “The Purple Line will provide faster, more direct and more reliable east-west transit service that improves connections to existing Metrorail and MARC rail lines.”
The $2 billion project is targeting completion in 2022.
The Purple Line is being developed under a public-private partnership (P3) awarded to Purple Line Transit Partners in 2016. It is the second transit P3 project in the U.S., according to Jerry Jannetti, Northeast regional business manager for WSP.
“Our client was moving into new territory,” Meade said. “With the availability of public dollars becoming more constrained, the MTA was looking for alternative delivery methods that could bring financing to the table and reduce the risk to the state. A P3 was the solution.”
WSP supported the MTA through the P3 solicitation process and document preparation, including the technical provisions and performance requirements to find the right private partner to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the light rail and associated projects for 30 years.
“WSP was able to bring its P3 financial and project expertise to the table and shepherd the project through the procurement process,” Meade said.
The firm also provided planning/engineering, ridership forecasting, environmental impact analysis and documentation, cost estimating, stakeholder and third-party agreement management, and assisted with documentation requirements to obtain a $900 million federal capital grant.
WSP is currently providing contract management, design review, public outreach, and construction management quality oversight for MDOT and the MTA.
While the Purple Line is a state project, it success has been driven by heavy participation and funding from local counties.
“This has meant extensive collaboration and coordination are necessary for the project’s success,” Meade said. “The most important partnership is that with Purple Line Transit Partners – the concessionaire team that will design, build, finance, operate and maintain this line for 30 years. Other stakeholders, such as the University of Maryland, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority have been key partners in the process as well.”
The project also has the potential to reshape the built environment, attracting development – and redevelopment – around the stations.
“Transit, by its very nature, benefits the environment – providing a transportation alternative to the private automobile, which reduces emissions,” Meade said. “By focusing new development in station areas, rather than on undeveloped land, our farmland and open space is preserved, and less environmental impacts are experienced in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”
Even before the first shovel hit the soil, the Purple Line was recognized with several industry awards, including:
Having been involved with the project from scoping to construction has been a fascinating experience for Meade.
“It has been very exciting for me to be on this project from the beginning,” she said. “This project is unique as a circumferential link in a regional rail transit network that is radial in its alignment, but changing land uses and the relocation of employment and activity centers outside downtown across the country means that this model will be appropriate in many locations.”
Meade believes that this project will set the standard for how public transportation projects are financed.
“The use of public-private partnerships will likely become the preferred way to build public infrastructure in the future,” she said. “The Purple Line is breaking ground on this, and our experience on this project allows us to support other clients considering alternative delivery methods.”
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