Four Purple Line Bids Submitted

The deadline was today. All four of the preferred bidders submitted “technical” proposals - financial details are due December 8. The Post reports:

Maryland just moved another step closer to building a light-rail Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

As of noon Tuesday — the deadline for submitting “technical” bids — the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) had received proposals from four teams of private companies outlining how they would design, build, operate and maintain a Purple Line, state officials said.
All cost details — the overall construction cost and how much the state would pay the private team to operate and maintain the line, as well as help finance its construction — will be included in financial proposals due Dec. 8.
All four teams of private companies “short-listed” to bid on a 35-year public-private partnership for the Purple Line project submitted proposals before the deadline, said MTA spokesman Chuck Brown.
The four consortiums of private companies are: Maryland Purple Line Partners, Maryland Transit Connectors, Purple Line Transit Partners and Purple Plus Alliance. Each team consists of up to a dozen or so companies, including some of the world’s largest engineering and construction firms.

Negotiations will begin January 15 with a winning bidder to be selected by February. The contract will then have to be approved by the Board of Public Works.

Another Cautionary P3 Tale

Maryland is about to enter the wild world of public private partnerships (known as P3s). Earlier this year, I wrote about Maryland’s fascination with a process that neighboring Virginia is abandoning, and then about a particularly egregious Virginia P3 horror story.

Today, Michael Laris in the Post has another spooky Virginia P3 tale, this one about a new Norfolk tunnel.

The private proposal to build a new underwater tunnel in this congested port city was originally billed as a way for Virginia to get a crucial piece of infrastructure without having to put in a single dollar of state money.

Instead, Virginia officials have agreed to spend $580 million on the project, more than twice the investment from the companies behind the deal. With no competition, the companies won the right to collect billions of dollars in tolls over 58 years.

The state also agreed that the companies — Swedish construction giant Skanska and Sydney-based finance group Macquarie — are entitled to large government payouts if Virginia builds or expands other bridges or tunnels nearby, making fixing other traffic woes more costly for generations to come.

From Florida to California, public-private partnerships have proliferated as a bipartisan cure-all for the nation’s plugged-up politics and sagging infrastructure. The idea is that market forces can slash waste and speed projects, delivering much-needed improvements without soaring taxes. Maryland officials are seeking such a deal for the Purple Line light-rail project, and another is being considered to widen Interstate 66 outside the Capital Beltway in Virginia.

The rest of the article is a cascading narrative of stupid decision piled upon bad assumptions, incompetent planning, and panicked sole source negotiations. In the end, Virginia will end up paying vastly more for the infrastructure that it initially said it couldn’t pay for. And if the state wants out, the costs will be even higher.

The Purple Line is coming to Montgomery County. It’s very likely that the deal will be negotiated by state level actors, despite the fact that the state has reduced its contribution to the project drastically. So where will the conseuences fall for a poorly negotiated deal? On Montgomery and Prince George’s County, that’s where, two counties that are already stretched to the breaking point with competing needs for capital expenditures. If this deal goes to shit like those in Virginia, Maryland and its counties will have no one to blame but themselves. But it will be the taxpayers who will suffer for several generations from the pom-pom waving politicians collectively throwing themselves over the cliff for a deal that is likely to benefit everyone involved except the residents of our state and county.

No Shit - Really?

I’m trying to understand how something so fundamental can take years to be recognized. Metro has a report out acknowledging that its reliability issues might be driving commuters out of using Metro (yes, yes, pun intended). What’s next? Snow is cold? Rain is wet? Sun is hot?

Metro, in an unusual acknowledgment, says breakdowns and other service failures appear to be contributing to a steady, years-long decline in ridership that is causing financial stress for the transit agency and could lead to fare increases.

The persistent drop in annual rail ridership since 2010 results not only from economic and lifestyle changes in the Washington region, according to a Metro budget report made public this week. The report cites “preliminary evidence” that “concern by customers over service quality and reliability” also is taking a toll on ridership.

The document — prepared as a revenue briefing to be presented to members of Metro’s governing board Thursday — includes an uncommonly candid recognition by the agency that subway performance woes have become so chronic that more and more commuters are abandoning the system, which has worsened Metro’s money problems.

When I came to DC in 1981 (yes, the year Reagan was inaugurated), Metro was barely five years old, the Red Line stopped at Dupont Circle, the Orange Line at Ballston, and the Blue Line at National Airport (where the unionized air traffic controllers still worked and the name of the airport hadn’t been hijacked yet).

Metro was gorgeous. The trains were pretty and clean, they ran on time, and the stations were lovely in a minimalist, Blade Runner sort of way. Everyone wanted to ride it. But 34 years of wear, tear and neglect of basic maintenance by all involved jurisdictions has brought us to the point where nobody wants to use it. 

Most recently, in 2011 and 2012, my family and I (including a very sick wife) were left waiting for trains for between 45 minutes and an hour outside in the cold at New York Avenue on three separate occasions, the only times we tried to use it. I won’t use it any more because I can’t rely on it to any meaningful degree. I’d like to but I can’t trust it.

The fact that Metro is only now coming to grips with the idea that its maintenance problems and lack of reliability are costing it money is kind of shocking. I know commuters who stopped using it five, 10, 15 years ago. Hello?

I don’t know if we can fix it at this point. The investments required are massive but the long term failure to understand the breach of trust that was going on is worse. It’s sad, because the system was once the envy of the country and the world, and we let it fall apart right before our eyes.

I think about Metro a lot when I end up in discussions about the Purple Line now. It’s coming right through my civic association neighborhood, right down Wayne Avenue. When I see the state investment being lowered, and I see corners being cut right off the bat, before we even begin, and I read about the impact on the local residents, I think “are we just dooming ourselves to the same outcome?” It’ll be pretty, and people will use it for a while, and then it’ll fall apart because we haven’t invested sufficiently in maintenance and upkeep, and then we’ll be told that public transit doesn’t work and the neighborhood impacts and dislocations here in Silver Spring will have been for nothing, and I think surely there’s a better way but nobody is listening and I think about history repeating itself first as farce and then as tragedy and then I realize that I’m talking to myself in the park again and I really need to stop doing that.

You get the idea. What I’m asking is this: Isn’t there a better way?

Leggett: “90% Chance” Purple Line Gets Built

Ike Leggett likes the odds of the Purple Line being built. So much so that on Kojo Nnamdi’s weekly Politics Hour today, he predicted the likelihood of the Purple Lone going forward at 90%.

Despite the Purple Line’s uncertain financial future, County Executive Ike Leggett Friday said he’s “90 percent-plus” certain the 16-mile light-rail will be built “in a reasonable period of time.”

Leggett made the prediction on Friday’s Kojo Nnamdi radio show after politics analyst Tom Sherwood asked him to put a percentage on the likeliness of the project getting built.

You can also watch the video of the entire show. The other guest was D.C. Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie.

MoCo Purple Line Funding

Well, that didn’t take long. Montgomery County has agreed to $40 million in new county funding for the Purple Line.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said Thursday that he has committed an additional $40 million in county money toward state plans to build a 16-mile light-rail Purple Line through the Maryland suburbs.

Leggett said he told state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn last week that the county would contribute the $40 million, in addition to $177 million in previously committed in-kind contributions, as long as the money wasn’t needed for five to six years. Rahn agreed to that timing, he said.

Leggett said the county would find the money by “reprioritizing” its six-year Capital Improvements Program, which funds new roads, libraries, recreation centers and other county facilities. That could result in other construction projects being delayed a year or so, or the county borrowing more to increase the overall capital budget, which hovers around $2 billion, he said.

“The Purple Line is our number-one transportation priority,” Leggett said. “Clearly no one wants to spend more, but when you look at it in a comprehensive way, this project will be here many, many years. In my opinion, it’s a good deal, but it won’t come without some sacrifices and some adjustments.”

The good news is that the money will be paid out in the future, giving the County time to absorb the hit. The bad news, as anyone who’s ever advocated for a project to get CIP funding can tell you, is that $40 million is going to delay or kill a whole bunch of worthwhile projects in the nest several years.

No word yet on whether Prince George’s County will pony up more money, or how much.

So one more hurdle has been cleared. Standing alone, I don’t have a problem with this concession, because the Purple Line is the county’s #1 priority. But there are other hurdles, and there are going to be other costs. How those costs get allocated, and how high the bill gets, is something that we should all keep a close eye on over the next year or two.

Purple Line: Where’s The Money?

While everyone (well, mostly) cheered when Governor Larry Hogan announced he would proceed with the Purple Line late last month, the trick now is finding the money to pay for all the funding the State is backing away from, and to maintain as much of the federal funding commitment of $900 million as possible. As Katherine Shaver of the Post notes in her excellent article this morning, there’s a lot of moving parts that need to be resolved in a short period of time in order for this to work.

The celebration after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s approval last month of a light-rail Purple Line for the Washington suburbs has given way to hand-wringing over whether his financial conditions can be met.

New figures provided by the Maryland Department of Transportation show a $170 million gap between its latest estimated construction cost — $2.16 billion, down from $2.45 billion — and the amount of funding lined up. MDOT officials emphasized that the dollar figures are “working numbers” that will change by the time a contract is awarded, but the question of who will cover any shortfall — and how — has added a layer of uncertainty.

“This is not a done deal,” said state Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s transportation subcommittee. “The fact that the governor said we’re moving forward doesn’t make it so until all the other pieces of the puzzle fit together. . . . There’s still a multitude of questions that need to be answered to be able to say definitively this project will be built in the near future.”

With the delays incurred as a result of Hogan’s review of the project and now the need to rework the details substantially, a lot of details need to be worked out in a short time so that a contract can be awarded and construction can start in less than a year. The process, however, won’t exactly be taking place in the sunlight.

Although the project remains alive, the significant cut in state funds means that substantial and complex parts of the project — its financial plan and what a scaled-back rail line would look like — must be reworked. MDOT released a 2,075-page revised bid solicitation last week.

The project, previously on pace to have construction start this year and trains running in 2020, is now almost a year behind schedule.

Timing is critical. The project won’t receive any federal construction money until the state signs a funding agreement with the Federal Transit Administration. But the FTA won’t sign an agreement until Maryland has a final plan detailing the project’s costs and who will pay for what.

Many of the details will be hashed out behind closed doors over the next four months as the four teams of private companies competing for a 35-year contract to design, build, operate and maintain the Purple Line incorporate Hogan’s cost-cutting changes into their bids.

The proposals will reveal how much a slimmed-down project would cost to build and operate and how much of the construction expenses the private sector is willing to finance. But the public likely won’t hear much until the state selects a winning proposal early next year. Bid documents, MDOT officials say, are exempt from the state public records law.

Finally, where are Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties going to come up with more money to pay for this while the state cuts back its commitments? While $50 million more per county has been discussed, that number is no firmer than any of the other figures being tossed around.

Feldman, the state senator, said he is concerned that Hogan’s requirement that the counties pitch in more will threaten the Purple Line’s financial viability. He noted that the governor has not required local governments to help fund state highway projects.

“Does the governor really want to build the [Purple Line] project, or did he set this up as a mechanism that’s very difficult to make work?” Feldman said. “Then the governor could say he supported the project, but if the locals can’t come up with the money, [he could say] they lacked the political will.”

The behind the scenes jockeying to lock in a viable agreement over the next several months is going to be intense. If the information is available I’ll do my best to keep up with this story. The Purple Line is a needed and beneficial project, but there’s a limit. The more it gets cut at one end, sacrificing the quality of the project and its usefulness, and the more county taxpayers are asked to pay on the other end, the closer we get to the point where this become no longer worth it as a transit project. I don’t claim to know where that precise point is right now, but it’s a question that has to be asked.

Chevy Chase Saga Continues

The Town of Chevy Chase may be in the process of abandoning its attempts to kill the Purple Line in favor of a strategy of mitigation or some other course. Bethesda Magazine:

The Town of Chevy Chase appears to be backing off its strategy of trying to kill the Purple Line, according to comments made by Town Council members and residents at a public hearing Wednesday night.

“The frontal charge to oppose the Purple Line is not a very sensible strategy,” council member John Bickerman said at the hearing attended by about 40 people. “I don’t think we’ve been effective with the money we spent.”

Ya think? But then again, there are the diehards.

Elm Street residents were particularly vocal at the hearing—their homes back up to the Capital Crescent Trail where the light-rail would run—and they may be the most affected by the trains that are now scheduled to pass every 7½ minutes.

Elm Street resident Joan Rood urged the town to keep fighting the construction of the Purple Line. “We are a wealthy town and we have the money,” she said.

Points for brutal honesty, anyway. And succinct. Don’t think the Town officials will be very happy with that statement, though.

Mitigation isn’t likely to be a winner either, given the cost- slashing proposals from the governor this week. Mitigation costs money. What other course might there be? Stay tuned.

The council recommended suspending its August meeting, but agreed to be in touch via email or by holding an emergency meeting if measures that significantly impact the town are proposed as more details are released about the project.

In a memo sent to town residents prior to the public hearing, Lang wrote the town’s long-range planning committee will be creating an analysis of the issues surrounding the project. The analysis wasn’t ready for consideration at the public hearing Wednesday, according to Lang.
“When completed, it will be presented to Town residents for review and comment and will form the basis for the Council’s decision on how to proceed,” Lang wrote. 

$100 Million We Didn’t Ask For

Governor Larry Hogan has announced $100 million in funding for I-270 improvements that Montgomery County didn’t ask for. Great.

The pilot project is planned to test congestion solutions such as allowing motorists to drive in the highway shoulder during rush hours, allowing buses to drive in the shoulder and possibly using traffic lights to better control traffic entering the highway—a process known as “ramp metering.”

The funding is part of the governor’s plan to invest $2 billion in state funds to improve highways, roads and bridges. The governor said the figure includes $1.35 billion dollars in new funding in addition to the $625 million already in the budget for roadway improvements.

$100 million for ramp metering? Another idea that Virginia did a long time ago and then abandoned. Great x2.

Can we get this boondoggle cancelled and have a first class Purple Line back, please?

Of course not, because (all together now) “elections have consequences.” Ugh.

Get Less, Pay More

That’s what Governor Larry Hogan is telling Montgomery and Prince George’s County with his proposed changes to the Purple Line. There will be more of some things, though - more noise, more construction disruption, and most likely, more time waiting for the work to be done. And the resulting light rail system will no longer be first class, but low rent. All things considered, I’m not sure this deal is worth doing.