WASHINGTON — Wednesday marked the deadline for companies interested in developing a pair of major rail projects under Maryland’s new public-private partnership authorization law, and the private sector is jumping at the chance.
The Maryland Transit Administration is seeking private-sector input two develop the Purple Line outside Washington, D.C. and the Baltimore Red Line. The Purple Line is a proposed 16-mile light rail line extending from New Carrollton in Prince George’s County to Bethesda in Montgomery County, linking up with the Washington Metro as well as Amtrak trains, local commuter trains, and local bus services.
The Red Line would be a 14-mile light rail line connecting the areas of Woodlawn, Edmondson Village, West Baltimore, downtown Baltimore, Harbor East, Fells Point, Canton, and the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center with connections to the city’s existing transportation infrastructure.
The state is targeting 2015 as a construction start date for the Purple Line and the Red Line with the goal of having the light rail lines completed and open for revenue service after 2020.
Jamie Kendrick, deputy executive director for the office of transit development and delivery at the MTA, said the private-sector response could be summed up in a single word.
“Overwhelming,” he said.
The new legislation encouraging P3s in the Old Line State was passed last month and takes effect July 1. It represents Maryland’s first statewide policy on P3s, and lays out the specific process involved in delivering projects from the solicitation phase through completion. An analysis from law firm Ballard Spahr LLP said the law provides predictability for potential investors and will strengthen Maryland’s infrastructure. Predictability is often cited as one of the biggest weaknesses for transportation P3s, particularly when it comes to political pushback.
But Kendrick said the overwhelming response to the state’s request validates that P3 agreements, in which a state agency often issues bonds on behalf of a not-for-profit private partner, will be a major part of transportation finance for years to come. He said the MTA has gotten many bids from European firms, which have a longer history of P3 development than most American companies. About 21 responses had come in by Wednesday afternoon.
MTA is planning an industry forum beginning May 15 at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport Sheraton Four Points hotel, Kendrick said. The forum is intended to help bring transportation experts together to discuss best practices, lessons learned and new technology options in building cost effective, state-of-the-art light rail lines.