ROCKVILLE, Md. – Montgomery County Council members questioned the cost and the ongoing construction problems that have held up the opening of the Silver Spring Transit Center during a briefing Tuesday on the long-delayed and over-budget facility.
“This has been the biggest construction debacle in the county’s history,” says Councilman Phil Andrews.
But his blunt assessment of efforts to repair the transit project was challenged by David Dise, general services director for Montgomery County.
“I will say we have had some very major projects in our past, Strathmore, being the most recent, that also encountered delays and cost overruns” Dise said, referring to the Strathmore Center for the Arts in Bethesda.
Dise’s office has been responsible for overseeing the construction of the center, which, when complete, will be handed over to Metro to operate.
The latest glitch appears to be with the hundreds of beams that support the three- story facility.
Dise said there are concerns about “tortion,” a twisting that can happen when buses on either side of the structure are traveling in different directions and create opposing pressures.
“Concrete doesn’t like to be twisted: it cracks. Cracking exposes the member to additional deterioration,” Dise explained.
Dise says efforts are being made to reinforce the beams.
Given the hundreds of requests for alterations to the project, better known as change orders, and past problems with cracking and leaks, questions remain whether the project will be safe to use once finished. But Dise promised that the facility will be safe.
“It will absolutely be safe. Remember, we know that it already handles its own weight, and it’s already survived an earthquake,” he says.
It’s also not clear when the transit center will open to the public.
Dise says the county’s work on the project will be completed by end of May, then in June, the facility will be turned over to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Once that happens, WMATA will have a 30-day review period. Asked about the opening date, WMATA’s Charles Scott told WTOP to “ask Mr. Dise.”
A number of council members echoed the frustration they say they are hearing from constituents.
Councilman Roger Berliner told Dise it was time to move past finger-pointing.
“I just hope we can get past those kinds of conversations and just get this thing open.”
Councilman Marc Elrich also expressed concern.
“I’m not sure people believe what we say,” Elrich said, prompting wry laughs from his colleagues on the council.
Dise repeated an earlier statement, that the county’s “position” is that the taxpayers will not be on the hook for the money needed to repair the problems with the project. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have to put money on the table to make the repairs first.
Dise says there will be some “up front” expenses, but that the county would take steps to ensure it reimbursed.
“There’s certainly going to be some legal challenges in front of us,” he says.