Credit: Maryland Transit Administration

After cost overruns and disputes with a prior contractor, the Purple Line is now scheduled to open in the fall of 2026 and cost another $1.4 billion, state transportation officials told state lawmakers in a report Wednesday.

According to the report, “rising material costs across the industry, a smaller labor force, material shortages due to supply chain challenges, [and] increases in the insurance market” led to the increased cost estimate.

The report also stated that mandatory wage increases in Maryland and Montgomery County, inflation over the last five years, a new contractor joining mid-project and other factors led to the increased cost.

The increased cost and project timeline were first reported by The Washington Post on Wednesday.

The Purple Line is a 16-mile, 21-station light-rail project running from Bethesda to New Carrollton. In November, state officials selected a new contractor, after cost overruns and disputes with a previous contractor led to numerous delays.

Outside of prior contractors’ disagreements with the state, local officials have also disagreed about how the Purple Line should operate. County Executive Marc Elrich proposed single-tracking the Purple Line in downtown Bethesda last March, but some council members disagreed.

In April 2021, state officials denied Elrich’s request, citing logistical changes and the need for federal approval for that change to occur.

According to Wednesday’s report from the Maryland Department of Transportation to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and House Appropriations Committee, construction on the project is scheduled to resume this spring.

The 16 miles of track should be completed by the summer of 2024 and testing should begin by fall 2025, the report states. The conclusion of systemwide testing and the beginning of passenger service should occur by the fall of 2026. 

The Maryland Board of Public Works — which approves large contracts for various construction projects statewide — still needs to approve new details of a public-private partnership with the new contractor to operate and run the line for 30 years.

If approved at a meeting this month, that would increase the agreement from about $5.6 billion in 2016 to $9.3 billion today.

Holly Arnold, head of the Maryland Transit Administration, said in a prepared statement that the amended public-private partnership proposal to the Board of Public Works is a “critical step” in completing the project.

“Taking the Purple Line P3 Agreement amendment to the Board of Public Works is the next step needed to move the Purple Line from construction into an active light rail line that creates a truly interconnected regional transit system,” Arnold wrote.

The Board of Public Works — consisting of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Dereck Davis — is scheduled to meet Jan. 26.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com