Editor’s note: This story and headline were updated at 6:35 p.m. on April 6 to reflect an updated statement from Purple Line spokesperson David Abrams.
The Purple Line light rail is on target to open in fall 2026, a spokesperson confirmed to MoCo360 Tuesday, despite reports in January that opening would be delayed until mid-2027 because of issues moving utility lines.
“Our target date for opening remains fall of 2026 as we continue to negotiate with our concessionaire,” Purple Line spokesperson David Abrams said, referring to the public-private partnership, Purple Line Transit Partners, led by infrastructure investor Meridiam. “The target date is the estimated contractual deadline; until negotiations are complete, the contractual deadline for revenue service remains unchanged. MDOT MTA’s review of the concessionaires’ estimate of delay and efforts to mitigate the delay is part of the active negotiations between MDOT MTA and Purple Line Transit Partners.”
The Purple Line was originally slated to open in March 2022 at a cost of just under $2 billion but suffered major delays, including a nearly-two-year standstill after the first contractor quit. Under the latest projection, it would be four-and-a-half years late and $1.46 billion over budget. The Washington Post first reported on the projected delay in January.
The Purple Line team is rescheduling certain tasks within the project to speed it up, Abrams said in an email.
“In addition, we are evaluating several options to increase productivity by adjusting maintenance of traffic, progressing certain work concurrently instead of sequentially and improving coordination with utilities,” he said.
According to a bond rating report from credit rating agency Fitch Ratings released last week, owner utility adjustments are experiencing delays, and completion of the project was projected to be 258 days behind. However, the report said “this is a moving target” because agreed upon mitigation measures could recover the schedule to just an 81-day delay.
The report also noted that the various parties involved in the project seemed to be working together well, unlike in the past.
Fitch Ratings affirmed the project has a stable, or BBB, bond rating. A AAA rating is the highest rating Fitch gives.
In a media briefing last month, Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass said he was “hopefully optimistic” that Purple Line construction had turned a corner and would open in 2026 after a presentation from the project team.
“The bottom line here is that the Purple Line project is so incredibly important to Montgomery County and our region. It’ll be a lifeline for residents and workers living between Bethesda and New Carrollton,” Glass said.
Abrams said work on five bridges is underway, including crossings of Rock Creek, Sligo Creek and Connecticut Avenue in Montgomery County, and in Prince George’s County on University Boulevard over the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River and at the Glenridge Shopping Center.
“Construction has resumed to finish the remaining vertical excavation on the Bethesda station’s elevator shaft before tunneling horizontally to connect over to [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s] Metro platform 130 feet underground,” Abrams added, noting that more than 3,000 tons of excavated material would be removed during that process.
The Purple Line will be the only light rail line on the WMATA Metrorail system to connect Montgomery County with Prince George’s County without going through Washington, D.C. Passengers will be able to travel from downtown Bethesda to the Amtrak/MARC/Metro station in New Carrollton without battling Beltway traffic or changing rail lines at D.C.’s Metro Center.
With 21 stations along its 16.2-mile route, the Purple Line’s stops will include downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring and the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
The Purple Line is expected to serve more than 65,000 riders a day, according to the MTA. That’s higher than the daily ridership of every existing Metrorail line except the Red Line, which carries nearly 100,000 riders a day on weekdays, according to WMATA.
Glass said last month he was told any additional cost overruns will be incurred by the state, not the county.
Glass said it’s pertinent for county officials to continue to communicate with businesses and residents affected by Purple Line construction. Last month, the County Council approved a supplemental appropriation of about $800,000 that will fund grants for small businesses in the county that have been impacted by the Purple Line project.
“These funds are provided through a state grant and will help some of the businesses that are most impacted by the delays and the construction work, a majority of which are women- and minority-owned businesses,” Glass said. “We’re going to continue keeping an open line of communication with the state with the contractors with the residents and business owners to make sure that everyone knows what’s happening and that everybody is briefed on the progress.”