While the Purple Line light rail is expected to be completed around 2027, Montgomery County officials say they don’t want to wait that long for repairs to the roads damaged by the project.
Montgomery County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) urged action to help drivers and pedestrians safely commute past and around construction of the 16.2-mile light-rail transit line that stretches from Bethesda to New Carrollton.
Officials said some of the more troublesome areas include University Boulevard between College Park and Silver Spring, while Olson said problems exist along Veterans Parkway, East-West Highway, and Riverdale Road.
“We have to make sure that these current states of disrepair are fixed in an equitable manner,” Glass said at a Sept. 20 virtual meeting of the Purple Line NOW Coalition. The coalition is a group of business, labor, environment, neighborhood and civic organizations that work with federal, state and local officials on the project.
“Some of the people who are just driving their car to work or to drop off their kid at school, they hit a pothole and the hundreds of dollars to fix their car is not in their bank account,” Glass said. “And so, we just have to be very mindful of that.”
The issue came up multiple times during the meeting, including during the question-and-answer session at the end.
Glass and Prince George’s County Councilmember Eric Olson (Dist. 3) said they’re getting many complaints about the roads and urged their constituents to stay in touch on this issue.
“It’s the Purple Line’s responsibility to fix those problems,” Olson said. “We’re constantly in touch with the Purple Line team about potholes. There was a time when they did fill certain potholes, and then they became worse. [The team] has been out there, but they need to do a better job.”
Glass said the latest estimate for the rail completion of 2027 isn’t a done deal, as the project team works to overcome many previous delays, Glass said.
The Purple Line has encountered major challenges throughout the construction phase, which began in August 2017 with an initial completion date of 2022.
According to the Maryland Daily Record, the contractor to design and build the line was replaced in 2022. A Maryland Transit Administration official said in July 2023 that the project faced delays in relocating utilities. It’s also tough to build train tracks and stations in areas with lots of vehicle and pedestrian traffic, the official said. Additional delays stemmed from workforce and supply chain issues as well as high inflation.
Cost overruns related to the delays have reached the billions. The contract amount for the project has nearly doubled, from $5.6 billion to $9.4 billion, with an additional $148 million added in July, according to the Daily Record.
“…It is our job to make sure it gets done as soon as possible, that the quality is the best possible, and that we do not incur the same kinds of cost overruns that occurred over the last number of years,” said Glass, who also chairs the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee.
The construction itself is raising issues for many.
The closure of the Capital Crescent Trail, a popular venue for runners, walkers and bikers has raised questions from county officials. The closure has raised questions and challenges from residents, not officials. According to transportation officials, the trail is not currently safe for use because large portions of the Capital Crescent Trail are directly adjacent to the Purple Line. In addition to construction, workers are installing overhead electric lines and will be testing trains.
However, the question remains as to whether portions of the trail could open before 2027.
“It’s more or less a `stay tuned’ for that,” said Christina Contreras, strategic projects implementation manager for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. State transit officials “recognize and have heard the request of opening a trail as soon as they possibly could, so I think it’s a wait and see.”
Timing remains unclear for any openings along the trail.
“They’ve got to look not just for the safety of anyone walking on the trail itself,” Contreras said. “They have to look at the safety of their workers.”
Officials from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties said at the meeting that as progress continues, they are actively working to provide affordable housing and business opportunities for lower-income people along the Purple Line.
Glass discussed rent stabilization legislation recently passed in Montgomery County, which put limits on rents in existing developments but allowed a 23-year grace period for new buildings.
“That is particularly of importance to the Purple Line corridor,” Glass said. “We will have a mix of old and new and they will fall in different places under that law. We want to make sure that the people who have lived there and are living there under these situations are not displaced.”
Olson said the county is “actively working to track affordable housing development,” with some buildings currently under construction or in the planning stages.
He said several projects are in the pipeline between College Park and New Carrollton, and overall, this issue is “a huge focus for us.”
Another big focus for both counties is the ability of pedestrians and bicyclists to safely access Purple Line stations, Glass and Olson said.
“This is going be an ongoing conversation,” Glass said.
Glass stressed the need to make sure that the development that arises around the Purple Line “allows us to remain inclusive, and a diverse community as well.”
While a goal is being able to retain the small businesses and residents currently established around the line, “there will be some natural growth that we encourage, and that we expect,” Glass said.
A new $12 million project has been funded to design and construct bicycle and pedestrian capital improvements around Purple Line stations, according to Maricela Cordova, acting deputy director of transportation policy for the Montgomery County Department of Transportation.
Pedestrian safety “is a very critical focus for us,” she said.