The Maryland Transit Administration has received about 110 comments on its final impact study of the Purple Line and most are very similar to comments made during the 2008 draft impact study process.
Mike Madden, the Purple Line project manager, indicated MTA officials are more interested in new concerns and expect a spike of comments in the next few weeks.
Regardless, Madden said he and his staff will be holding community meetings and making presentations far past the Oct. 21 deadline for comments.
“It’s not the end of it at all,” Madden told the Action Committee for Transit, a pro-Purple Line group that met Tuesday. “We’ll be around.”
About 10 years after Madden began on the project, which has ultimately become a $2.2 billion, 16-mile light rail that will run on the Georgetown Branch Trail in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, there is almost light at the end of the tunnel.
The 2013 General Assembly passed a gas tax increase that provided a state funding source for the project. In August, the state announced it would seek a private concessionaire to build and operate the system, while also kicking in $400 million to $900 million in construction funding during the build-out.
Once the public comment period on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) ends, the Federal Transit Administration will submit a Record of Decision (ROD), the legally binding agreement that ties the MTA and whatever private partner is chosen to the commitments detailed in the FEIS. Madden said that milestone is expected in December.
Once that happens, the MTA can start buying right-of-way, a process it has already started preparing for. (The MTA actually owns a still-operating Taco Bell in Langley Park, though that is for a related bus facility project.)
Madden said the state hopes to get a recommendation for a full-funding grant agreement from the feds in spring 2014. The state is hoping for about $900 million in federal funding.
While the federal review and funding process goes on, the state must also select a private partner to enter the “P3″ agreement.
The MTA will put out a Request For Qualifications later this month. Concessionaires interested in the project (Madden said more than 300 showed up at a May industry forum) will submit the type of experience they have in building and operating similar projects.
The MTA will come up with a short list by December, get proposals by August 2014 and announce a preferred developer in the fall of 2014.
Unlike the HOT lanes on the Beltway in Virginia, the private partner will not be reimbursed through revenue generated from users. Instead, the P3 agreement is in place to ensure construction funding through the peak build years, 2015-2020. The concessionaire will operate the system for at least 30 years, but will be paid back by the state “through interest like a mortgage” once it hits construction milestones and with “availability payments” based on operating and maintenance performance.
Madden said he anticipates bringing the concessionaire out to meet with the community as well.
The MTA hopes to get the full-funding grant agreement from the feds in early 2015 in order to start construction by the end of 2015 with a 2020 opening goal.
Map via Maryland Transit Administration