UPDATE: May 9, 2019: After weeks of negotiations, the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) has agreed to replace, at its own expense, a major Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSCC) water main in Prince George’s County Maryland that the commission said is dangerously close to construction of the $6 billion Purple Line light-rail project, according to WTOP. Installation of the new pipe will take two or more years.
In the meantime, the MTA has also removed soil, cranes and other construction materials and equipment from above the 66-inch main, giving the WSCC unfettered access to the pipe in case of a leak or other emergency or if the utility needs to perform critical maintenance.
- Carla Reid, the general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), has penned a letter to Kevin Quinn, head of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), asking the agency to stop construction on a portion of the nearly $6 billion Purple Line light-rail project, claiming it threatens a critical water distribution main in Prince George’s County, Maryland, The Washington Post reported.
- The commission claims that the MTA has allowed contractors to move soil on top of the highly pressurized 66-inch main in preparation for construction of a nearby train maintenance and storage facility. If work continues, the pipe could end up 30 feet underground, putting it out of the easy reach of maintenance crews. In the worst-case scenario, the pipe could burst, flooding train tracks and affecting the availability of drinking water and fire hydrant service.
- The Purple Line’s existing plan would see construction of the storage facility 65 feet to 85 feet from the pipe, with tracks 50 feet to 70 feet away. MTA officials said that nothing has been built on top of the pipe and that the state has agreed to relocate it further away from construction. State officials added that they are willing to move the pipe so that WSSC crews have easier access to it, not because of any safety concerns.
The pipe supplies water to much of the county’s businesses and residents, and WSSC officials said the disruption in service that would accompany a water main break would be “devastating.” When a water main breaks, not only could customers be without water while repairs are underway, but once service is restored, there could be boil-water precautions in effect until the sand and debris that entered the pipe during the break clear the system.
The Post reported that Purple Line Partners will not pay for cost overruns on the project, which has already been delayed because of litigation brought by local activists in 2016. Extra costs have already driven the price up $300 million from original estimates of $5.6 billion.
Even though that lawsuit was dismissed and work was allowed to get underway — with the project's federal grant of almost $1 billion intact — the same group that filed the original action went back to court with a second lawsuit, which was dismissed by the same judge that stopped work in 2016. Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail filed a third lawsuit in January against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the MTA and the Maryland DOT asking the court to invalidate an Army Corps permit that lets Purple Line construction crews discharge dredge and fill materials into local streams and wetlands. Their argument is that the permit is in violation of the Clean Water Act.