Seven Things to Know About the New Purple Line Agreement

Information about the light-rail project’s cost and design as well as the companies chosen to construct and operate it


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A diagram of the Silver Spring Library station

1. The total cost of the project is estimated to be $5.6 billion over 36 years

The Maryland Department of Transportation announced this estimate as part of its agreement with Purple Line Transit Partners, the team of construction and development companies chosen by the state to design, finance, build, maintain and operate the 16.2 mile light-rail line. The state touted this number as $550 million less than the contract estimate released in June 2015.

Under the agreement, the state will pay Purple Line Transit Partners annual installments of $149.4 million. While much of this will come from state tax funds, some of it will also be paid by fares collected once the line is operating.

2. The line will cost an estimated $1.99 billion to construct and $400 million in associated costs

The state’s transportation department’s latest construction estimate is less than the $2.5 billion cost estimated at the end of former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s tenure. Purple Line Transit Partners will pay for $1 billion of the construction costs using a federal loan, which will then be repaid by the state through the annual installments.

The other $990 million for construction is coming from a combination of federal, state and county funds. The state will pay $159.8 million toward upfront construction costs. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties are contributing a combined $333 million in cash and noncash contributions. Of its share, Montgomery County is contributing $40 million in cash plus $170 million in in-kind contributions for items such as the Bethesda Metro Red Line Station South entrance, the Capital Crescent Trail and the Silver Spring Green Trail, according to the state. The trails are meant to replace the current trails that run along the right-of-way where the Purple Line will be constructed in the county. There's also a stipulation in the agreement that service can't begin on the rail line until the Capital Crescent Trail is rebuilt.

An additional $933 million is expected to come from the federal government during the construction period.

Combining those payments results in a total of about $2.4 billion. The additional $400 million being spent during the construction period also includes costs for environmental mitigation, right-of-way acquisition, utilities, final design reviews and construction oversight, according to the state transportation department.

3. Agreement still needs approval from the Board of Public Works

The board, which is comprised of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and state Treasurer Nancy Kopp, is scheduled to review the agreement with Purple Line Transit Partners on April 6. If the board approves it, as expected, the next step would be to secure the full federal funding. According to the state’s transportation department, this can only be done after the Board of Public Works approves the agreement.

So far, the federal government has reserved $900 million to help pay construction costs, with $325 million already appropriated to the state. The total $933 million from the federal government is expected to come from two sources—$897 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program and $36 million in federal formula funding, according to the state.

The agreement includes penalties for poor service or delays.

4. Construction could begin later this year

If the agreement is approved by the Board of Public Works, the deal is expected to formally close in June.

After that, construction would begin in late 2016 and the light-rail line is expected to open no later than spring 2022. The 16.2-mile line would stretch from Bethesda to New Carrollton and include 21 stations in places including Silver Spring, Lyttonsville, College Park and Riverdale. Trips are expected to take approximately one hour to go from New Carrollton to Bethesda, according to the contract. The first trains are scheduled to be tested in Prince George's County.

5.  The state cut spending by eliminating some previously proposed features

One of the biggest savings items was adjusting the placement of the Silver Spring Transit Center’s Purple Line station, which Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn said saved $30 million. Rather than be built 81 feet above ground, sandwiched between the Red Line tracks and the transit center, the station will now be constructed on an existing grassy area next to the transit center. The move will also save a nearby office building that was to be demolished under the original plan.

Other savings, according to the state, came from increasing the time between trains from every six minutes during peak service, to every 7½ minutes, which will require less trains; reducing the amount of public art and not requiring “green” or grass-covered tracks in the design.

 

A green rail track (left) compared to a ballast rail track (right).

6. Purple Line Transit Partners is comprised of three primary companies—Meridiam Infrastructure, Fluor Enterprises and Star America Fund

Because the Purple Line is being constructed under a public-private partnership (P3) model, these three companies will be responsible for financing, designing, constructing, operating and maintaining the project over a 36-year contract with the state. While the companies will contribute much of the initial capital, they will be repaid in annual payments from the state.

Meridiam, a global firm with North American offices in New York City, is serving as the primary investor and contributing more than 70 percent of the funds to the project. The company is currently financing four rail projects in Canada, France and the United Kingdom, including a 19-kilometer light-rail project with 16 stops outside of Ontario.

Star America Fund is an investment firm based in Rosyln Heights, New York, that specializes in financing P3 projects and has helped finance 45 infrastructure projects valued at over $60 billion over the past 15 years, according to its website.

Fluor Enterprises, based in Irving, Texas, is leading the construction team, which also includes The Lane Construction Corporation and Traylor Brothers Inc. Fluor is one of the largest construction companies in the world and is currently working on rail projects in New York City, Los Angeles and The Netherlands, according to its website. Fluor has also partnered with the city of Denver to build, operate and maintain a 36-mile commuter-rail network under a P3 agreement.

Purple Line Transit Partners has chosen CAF USA to provide rail cars for the project. CAF has a controversial record of delivering rail cars that exceed weight requirements and being unreliable, according to The Washington Post. However, Rahn said the private companies building and operating the rail line have been incentivized to choose high-quality cars in order to avoid future repair and replacement costs over the 36-year lifespan of the contract.

7. The following images and designs have been included in documents about the agreement on the state’s Purple Line website:

 

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