Road construction continues for the Purple Line light-rail project in Hyattsville. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)
Road construction continues for the Purple Line light-rail project in Hyattsville. (Anthony Tilghman/The Washington Informer)

Although the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect daily life in Prince George’s County, one form of business is ongoing: construction.

Bulldozers, jackhammers and other diggers plow dirt in part of the county’s northern tier to build residences and businesses.

About 28 percent of the Purple Line light-rail slated for Prince George’s and Montgomery counties has been completed, said Prince George’s County Council member Dannielle Glaros (D-District 3) of Riverdale Park.

“Nonprofit partners and community members [are] coming together to make sure … it’s not just the light-rail itself that’s built, but we’re also strengthening our communities,” she said. “Working to make sure that those who are on the alignment are able to benefit from the Purple Line.”

Glaros hosted a virtual District 3 town hall Thursday, April 30 for residents in municipalities and communities including College Park, New Carrollton and Lanham.

The next day, however, a group of businesses called Purple Line Transit Constructors announced it plans to pull out of the $2 billion project due to constant delays and lack of money from the state.

The firms would allow for “an efficient and orderly transition” between 60 and 90 days. If no agreement can be reached during that time frame, officials with the state’s Department of Transportation and Transit Administration and the construction team — Fluor, Meridiam and Star America (which planned a 36-year investment to construct, operate and maintain the line) — would need to seek firms to continue the public-private partnership project.

The full project value is $5.6 billion and the value of the project’s design-build contract was $2 billion.

“Unfortunately, due to circumstances outside of PLTC’s control, there were multiple delays on the project and PLTC was unable to obtain the time and cost relief to which it is entitled from MDOT/MTA.” Scott Risley, PLTC project director, said in a statement. “Regretfully, PLTC simply cannot complete the project under these circumstances.”

A group of residents in Montgomery County filed a lawsuit in 2014 calling for more environmental analysis before building the 16-mile line, which will service 21 stations between New Carrollton in Prince George’s and Bethesda in Montgomery County.

Besides the lawsuit, PLTC said it couldn’t agree with state officials on right-of-way acquisition, changes to regulations and third-party agreements.

Veronica Battisti, spokesperson for the Maryland Transit Administration, said in an emailed statement that the project has experienced delays since 2016 in conjunction with litigation. She said the state has been “actively engaged in discussions” on the project and cannot comment until a “settlement is reached.”

Work on the project began in August 2017.

“We remain committed to continuing negotiations and focused on getting this key transit project completed and operational for the taxpayers of Maryland,” she said.

Glaros remains optimistic talks between the state and contractors can be done, especially with roadwork already underway and the project’s impact on current and future jobs.

“Any delays in this project is not going to be good for our economy, workers who are going to lose jobs and we have communities with roads that are torn up,” she said Monday, May 4. “There are some complicated negotiations that need to be figured out, but I have no doubt that state and the private partner can find a pathway forward.”

With fewer motorists on the road amid the pandemic, key construction projects have been able to continue.

Sen. Malcolm Augustin (D-District 47) of Cheverly, one of the nearly six dozen people who listened to Thursday’s session, said the reduced vehicle traffic shows residents understand public health remains a top priority.

“Until there has been a clear reduction in the risks that are out there, they’re in no rush to put their health at risk and the lives of others at risk,” he said. “They are certain folks who aren’t following the social distancing [guidelines]. The larger group of people who are keenly aware … really want to make sure that they are not getting themselves into harm’s way.”

Participants in the session also received updates on the resources dealing with the pandemic, possible virtual groundbreakings this summer for two new middle schools and the 2020 Census.

Jordan Baucum Colbert, coordinator for the census project in Prince George’s, reminded listeners the deadline extension to complete forms by phone, online and mail remains Oct. 31.

Baucum Colbert said a jurisdiction with one of the lowest response rates in District 3 is College Park, home of the University of Maryland, attended by thousands of students who come from other parts of the country.

As of Thursday, the county’s response rate stands at 43 percent compared to 56 percent statewide.

Baucum Colbert said the county’s rate increased by 35 percent since March 22.

“We should be proud of that increase. However, we’re a little bit behind neighboring counties,” she said. “What we want to do is just continue to encourage our family and friends … to complete their census as soon as they can.”

Two public school projects in the district that may finally come to fruition are Glenridge Area and William Wirt middle schools.

Both new buildings are slated to each house 850 students with two separate entrances for buses and visitors to help alleviate traffic on both campuses.

Those schools are going through a public-private partnership and the only jurisdiction in the state to conduct projects for schools.

Because these projects continue to move along, Glaros said virtual groundbreakings could happen this summer for Glenridge Area in Riverdale Park and William Wirt in Riverdale.

“I’ve been working on William Wirt since I came into office a little over six years ago,” she said. “We are finally here at the moment and I’m excited to see that these are still moving forward.”

In terms of whether schools will reopen before the last day on June 9, one school board member said he doesn’t think so.

“If I was betting man — which I’m not — I would probably bet that we would not go back this year,” said board member Bryan Swann. “We are prepared for all scenarios. We hope for the best and plan for the worst.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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