WSSC Calls for Delay of Purple Line Construction in Hyattsville

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By Mark F. Gray, Staff Writer, mgray@54.204.251.142

Metro purple line expansion – which is supposed to speed up travel time between Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties for commuters – is facing another delay.  However, unlike previous delays regarding jurisdictional boundaries or financial responsibility, the next hurdle facing the project appears to be a construction issue.

According to a story first reported by WTOP-FM, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) has asked that the light rail project “cease and desist” construction near a major water main in Hyattsville at the Glenridge Rail Storage Yard.  WSSC officials have repeatedly told the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) that its construction of the purple line threatens a 66-inch water pipe and the state must relocate the pipe around the rail yard.

WSSC called for a delay of Purple Line construction in Hyattsville after reports of the rail being built on top of a water pipe. (Courtesy Photo)

“I am writing to demand that you cease unauthorized construction work at the Glenridge Rail Storage Yard until further notice,”  WSSC General Manager Carla Reid wrote in a letter to MTA administrator Kevin Quinn.

WSSC reportedly claims the pipe has to be relocated around the rail yard because they need immediate and unobstructed access to the pipes, which are crucial to water service for residents of southern Prince George’s County.   The commission is responsible for more than 5,500 miles of water mains in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and it provides water to 1.8 million residents.

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“These water mains, especially a water main of this size, they’re under tremendous amounts of pressure, holding millions of gallons of water,” said WSSC’s Chuck Brown. “So if something were to happen, if this main were to break, it could be devastating.”

MTA officials claim to be sensitive and cautious while trying to make up for delays that have hampered the start of the overall project, which is already behind schedule and over budget.  The purple line construction project already costs $5.6 billion and the delays will likely add about $215 million to it.

“We have not constructed anything atop their pipe and we’re working to address their other concerns to keep the Purple Line moving forward,” said MTA Director of Project Delivery and Finance Jeff Ensor.

Ensor also reportedly said that the MTA is working through details now of helping to find a way to relocate the pipe around the rail yard after touring the area with its contractor.

The purple line has been delayed by a series of legal proceedings and environmental issues.  In 2017, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the project. Another delay occurred when the contractor building the purple line found it more difficult than expected to coordinate with the CSX railroad. The state of Maryland also missed some of its own deadlines for buying land and reviewing environmental plans.

Research indicates delays and cost overruns are fairly typical of major public transportation projects. University of Oxford scholar Bent Flyvbjerg analyzed 258 transportation infrastructure projects from around the world and found that nine in ten exceeded their cost estimates. The overruns were greater on rail projects than road projects but averaged 28 percent across the board.

The Purple Line already began construction a year behind schedule following the lawsuit so it won’t open at the earliest before February 2023.   However, the February 2023 opening date is possible only if work is accelerated according to the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP). The PLTP, a team of companies building the 16-mile line and helping to finance its construction, has also told the state, it could open as late as June 2024.

MTA officials issued a statement in January stating, “we are still working on developing a recovery schedule to open the Purple Line for revenue service by the end of 2022.”