Maryland’s Mojo

After a torrid 2020, The Old Line State closed the year in a strong way, says senior reporter Jonathan Davies

Maryland has become the hotbed of America’s P3 industry over the past year with megaprojects, trailblazers and controversy; it’s been anything but dull.

Although there are multiple contenders, Maryland’s top prize for 2020 has to be given to the signing of the pioneering Prince George’s School bundle, the USA’s first of its kind. According to Bob Hunt of JLL, who advised on the deal, the project will bring forward the upgrade of the region’s dilapidated schools by “15 years”, benefitting 8,000 students across the country, and paving the way for many more authorities to follow suit, potentially unlocking the benefits for countless students across the country.

Similar optimistic signals also emerged at the tail end of last year when Maryland’s Department of Transportation put to rest an infamous saga that gathered enormous media attention and criticism following litigation, disputes and delays in building its flagship Purple Line project.

As result of the settlement deal, which saw Fluor exit the project, consortium Purple Line Transit Partners has begun the “sprint” for a new contractor to join Meridian and Star America, marking another “positive step in advancing this important project to completion”, Transportation Secretary Greg Slater said.

Slater’s authority look set to carry this momentum into the New Year, with a winner for the I-495 and I-270 highway widening megaproject expected in February. Despite coming under fire from regional groups since the draft environmental impact statement was published, the authority released a request to the four shortlisted teams over the Christmas period last year, receiving “three strong proposals”, which Slater said gives the department “the ability to choose the right partner, who can collaborate with us”.

While these mammoth projects have caught the headlines over the few years, for good and bad, the presence of P3 in Maryland has gone from strength to strength – with other regional, local and, even, academic authorities using the model.

In November, The University of Maryland took an important step in its search for a partner for its NextGen Energy Program, selecting a shortlist of five from 13 teams that entered the race to renew and maintain a campus energy system. Carlo Colella, the university’s vice president for administration and finance, said that she was “impressed by the strength of the shortlisted potential partners and…confident in their ability to provide reliable and resilient utilities for our campus for decades to come”.

Further down the scale, P3 is showing its versatility and adaptability in delivering all types of projects: the City of Annapolis, in December, selected the Hunt-led Annapolis Mobility and Resilience Partners consortium to deliver its $56m city dock and parking project; Worcester County is looking to form a “grand-enabled” P3 to deliver broadband to rural areas; and Cecil County is currently looking for advisors to help on future P3 projects.

The University of Maryland’s experience shows that there is certainly plenty of interest from private partners to work with public agencies in Maryland, and judging by the number of public entities wanting to enter P3 agreements, those in the state have not been put off by the well-publicized troubles that faced the Purple Line deal.

Indeed, the state’s continued commitment to P3 in that project is to be commended: at one point Slater suggested that if the deal collapsed, the department would simply begin a P3 procurement anew. It is heartening to see that the administration did not throw the model out at the first sign of difficulty, but has instead stuck with it as still the best method to get value for money from the project. That in itself demonstrates to others that it is possible to navigate difficulties with a partner without throwing the P3 baby out with the bathwater.

If the recent momentum can be carried forward into 2021 and P3 is able to show its value, generations will be look back on last year as a significant milestone, not only for Maryland, but for the country.