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Report: Silver Spring transit hub is ‘severely compromised’

Some of the damage highlighted in the report. (Montgomery County)

Ari Ashe, wtop.com

ROCKVILLE, Md. – A new, 100-page engineering report calls the Silver Spring Transit Center “severely compromised” and details structural problems that pose a safety hazard, delaying the center’s opening yet again.

The center has been plagued with problems and is now $80 million over budget and two years behind schedule. Montgomery County officials paid for the independent report to determine what is wrong with the building and whether the county should take legal action against the project’s contractors and designers, who say they were excluded from the review.

“Things are significantly worse. We have more problems than we originally thought we had. As a result, the solutions will be more difficult to engineer,” said David Dise, general services director for Montgomery County.

Construction began on the $112 million structure in downtown Silver Spring in 2008 and was supposed to be done in 2011 before a series of cracks in the concrete delayed the opening more than two years.

The Montgomery County Council heard the results of the KCE Engineering review during a meeting Tuesday. Among the findings in the 100-page report were problems to the concrete, tension cables, slabs, beams, pour strips and girders.

“I was obviously disappointed that this was far beyond what we were led to believe initially. But bottom line is that we can fix it and we will fix it,” said Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner, who heads the Transportation Committee.

The report criticizes a number of parties, including contractor Foulger-Pratt Construction, designer Parsons Brinckerhoff and the independent inspectors at Robert B. Balter Company.

The report concludes that Balter “did not raise sufficient concern regarding the numerous issues that were known and/or became visible in the concrete during construction, and apparently did not follow up on solutions to those issues.”

“Had it not been for the initial exposure for the tendons, we would not have proceeded with the investigations into the thickness of the slabs, cracks and eventually exposed the lack of reinforcement in those pour strips,” said Dise.

“Had we not done it, we could’ve had loss of property and injuries to people below as concrete crumbled and fell. It could’ve been deadly.”

“It’s ironically fortuitous that there was the cracking because that led us to take a deeper look to see other issues. So if there’s a silver lining, the delays allowed us to do due diligence and found people didn’t do what they should have done,” says Berliner, who adds these findings probably saved lives.

Bryant Foulger, managing principal at Foulger-Pratt refused to take questions, only making a brief statement to reporters after the meeting.

“We haven’t seen the report. We’re just really concerned about this whole process. We’ve been asking the county for a year now to enter into a professional dialogue with us, so that we can identify what needed to be done to get this thing open. Those requests were rebuffed,” says Foulger.

“Taxpayers were forced to pay for a $2 million report conducted without any input from us or our engineers. If only the county had been willing to work cooperatively, the Transit Center would have been open by now for the benefit of everyone in Montgomery County.”

Foulger walked out with an assistant telling him to keep walking as a reporter asked whether his company dropped the ball.

Dise says the county will now take several months to review the report and develop engineering fixes to the structural problems at the transit center, then begin remediating the concrete.

The cost of those repairs is unclear.

“I pledge that the county will move forward aggressively to ensure that needed repairs are made to get it open as soon as possible. It is my intent to resolve the remediation and compliance issues on the transit center while we move, separately, to address issues of fault and liability,” Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett said in a statement.

The Montgomery County Council and Leggett are investigating whether to sue Foulger-Pratt to force them to pay for the fixes outlined in the report.

County officials have been hinting at a lawsuit for more than a year. In January, Leggett said the county would seek to recoup the costs to address the center’s structural problems.

The transit hub is intended to serve buses, Metro and MARC trains.

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