Montgomery County orders transit hub repairs to begin

Montgomery County General Services Administration Director David Dise (left) updates the County Council on the schedule to repair the over-budget and long-delayed Silver Spring Transit Center Tuesday. The county has ordered its contractor to begin repairing the most severe defects in the unfinished transit hub. Engineers will begin designing fixes for other problems soon. (WTOP/Ari Ashe)

Ari Ashe,

ROCKVILLE, Md. – Montgomery County has ordered its contractor to begin repairing major structural problems at the unfinished Silver Spring Transit Center and expects design work to fix other problems at the transit hub to begin soon.

County officials briefed the County Council on the over-budget and long-delayed project, which was designed to connect foot, bike and bus traffic with commuter trains.

“The construction will begin later this year, but work is underway on remediation right now,” David Dise, General Services Administration director told the council.

“We are giving Parsons Brinckerhoff (the engineers of record) six weeks to engineer a solution. The primary concern that we can tackle first is the safety concerns, the two pour strips on the mid-level of the facility.”

The pour strips threaten the structural integrity of the building and could injure or kill commuters if left as is. Other problems with the unfinished transit hub would not pose an immediate safety risk to the public but the building wouldn’t last the intended 40 years.

Dise sent contractor Foulger-Pratt a letter last week ordering them to begin work on the pour strips. Under the terms of the contract, Foulger-Pratt and the three other companies working on the project will pay for any repairs, then file a claim to recoup any costs.

Both Parsons Brinckerhoff and Foulger-Pratt have agreed to remain on the project and figure out the money situation later. However, Robert B. Balter, the company that inspected the facility, has not yet agreed to stay on.

“Taxpayers will not pay for this correction,” Dise said multiple times during the council briefing and afterwards to reporters.

“I appreciate your assurances that this council will not be asked for any supplemental appropriations on this project. It is our clear position the costs to fix this facility will not be borne by the taxpayers. That position will hold unless overturned by a court of law,” says Councilman Roger Berliner, who chairs the Transportation and Environment Committee.

Under the terms of the contract, if a claim is denied, the contractors can appeal and can file a lawsuit to recoup any costs. The County Council is keenly aware of the chance of a lawsuit and has already held several closed door sessions about potential litigation. The county could also sue Foulger-Pratt and other contractors for their role in the delays.

“I apologize to my constituents in advance for the necessity to have some of the discussions behind closed doors with legal counsel. I hope we can minimize that,” says Councilman George Levanthal.

Other problems outlined in a KCE Engineering report from March include missing post-tensioning cables and questions about the thickness of some of the concrete.

Dise says he hopes designs, permits and other steps to start construction can be completed before the end of the summer.

“The question is: Will this take months, will it take a year? We hope it will take less than a year, but I am not going to speculate on a schedule,” says Dise.

“I feel like our county, if it were a football team, we suffered a serious penalty. We got set back. Now everyone wishes we can do a Hail Mary to make it up. The reality is that we’ll move forward with three-yard plunges straight ahead and slowly work our way back,” says Berliner.

“We’ve all been very concerned and even outraged at this particular situation. But it’s important that we proceed to get a better idea of the timeline,” says Council President Nancy Navarro.

The County Council will likely hear another update on the transit center in June.

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 from KCE to determine what is wrong with the building and whether the county should take legal action against the project’s contractors and designers, who said they were excluded from the review.

Follow @AriAsheWTOP and @WTOP on Twitter.

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