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Standoff Grips $120M Problem Project

Monday, May 6, 2013

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Not so fast.

That's the word from Montgomery County, MD, which has advised Washington, D.C.'s transit agency that it cannot simply bail out of a troubled $120 million project that it had agreed to operate.

In a letter April 30, David E. Dise, Montgomery County's Director of General Services, reminds the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that it is bound to the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOS) signed Sept. 25, 2008.

And in case the letter was not clear, County Executive Isiah Leggett said at a County Council meeting May 1: “No one can just unilaterally decide that they don’t want to follow the agreement.”

Silver Spring Transit Center
Tate & Renner

Foulger-Pratt Development, the project's prime contractor, says the structure is sound. The project is years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

The face-off adds yet another layer of uncertainty to the project's murky, costly future.

Problem Project

The new dispute over who will operate the three-story, multimodal transit hub follows years of revelations of major problems on the project. Montgomery County is overseeing construction, but WMATA (also known as Metro) is supposed to operate the center upon completion.

The transit hub was supposed to anchor a vast array of mixed-use development in Silver Spring, MD, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

However, the project is now years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. An independent structural evaluation of the superstructure released in March documented a lengthy list of problems, including:

  • The majority of the concrete slab is outside the allowable construction tolerances;
  • Damaged protective coatings on embedded steel;
  • Insufficient corrosion inhibitors in concrete;
  • Inspection issues;
  • Extensive cracking in the slabs; and
  • Inadequately strengthened concrete and missing steel supports.

At one point during construction, the study says, a post-tensioning cable “popped out of the concrete and cracking was observed."

Silver Spring Transit Center
Tate & Renner

Montgomery County, MD, is supervising construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center outside Washington, D.C.  The D.C. transit agency is supposed to operate the center.

The prime contractor, Foulger-Pratt, of Rockville, MD, says that the structure is sound.

Bowing Out

On April 12, a Metro official abruptly announced in a letter to Leggett that the transit agency wanted out of the project.

The letter from A. Robert Troup, Metro’s deputy general manager of operations, said the agency would “not accept the Transit Center as contemplated by the Memorandum of Understanding between WMATA and Montgomery County,” because the structure falls short of standards that Metro outlined in the 2008 agreement.

The issues are of a “magnitude and severity,” Troup said, that even if repaired “would unnecessarily place an inordinate maintenance burden onto WMATA."

The County Council, which learned about the letter two weeks later in a Washington Post article, demanded answers at a meeting Wednesday. Meanwhile, Dise made the county's position clear in his letter.

"The MOU establishes WMATA’s and the County’s respective obligations for the construction, ownership, operation, and management of the Silver Spring Transit Center (SSTC)," Dise wrote. "As I stated during our meeting at your office on April 26, 2013, the County disagrees with WMATA’s assertions in the April 12, 2013 letter."

'Honor its Obligations'

Dise said the county would "deliver to WMATA a fully functional facility consistent with the design approved by WMATA under the MOU."

SSTC - Downtown Development

The transit center was supposed to anchor an extensive mixed-use development in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Silver Spring, MD. Montgomery County says it expects Metro to "honor its obligations."

He added, "The County continues to honor its obligations under the MOU and it expects WMATA to also honor its obligations under the MOU."

The letter also said that Metro offcials had agreed to provide the county with the results of the transit agency's inspection and testing of the transit center, along with its projected operating costs.

Four days later, Dise said, Metro had not provided the information.

'We Can Enforce their Obligations'

Tim Firestine, the county's Chief Administrative Officer, told WTOP Radio that the county had no intention of operating the facility.

"We believe within that MOU with WMATA, we can enforce their obligations under that MOU," Firestine told the station. "Those obligations do include operating, owning, maintaining the facility."


Tagged categories: Business management; Concrete; Concrete defects; Concrete repair; Corrosion inhibitors; Design; General contractors; Government contracts; Inspection; Mass transit; Public Transit; Rebar; Structural steel

Comment from Mike McCloud, (5/6/2013, 8:02 AM)

Has there ever been a public project that not behind schedule and over budget? really, I'm serious, has there...?

Comment from S Wolfe, (5/6/2013, 11:02 AM)

Ever heard of Hoover Dam, Mike?

Comment from Jim Johnson, (5/6/2013, 2:20 PM)

Let's see....the Alcan highway, all 900 miles of it, was built on budget and completed in 6 months if I remember correctly. I'd call that on schedule for the size of the project. One also needs to remember it was built by people not considered suitable for combat duty, because of their color.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/7/2013, 8:46 AM)

I certainly haven't read the actual contract, but based on the new stories, it sounds like Montgomery County are the first ones who didn't fulfill their contract obligations - if they were overseeing construction, they should ensure that the final project is built to spec before handing it over.

Comment from Mike McCloud, (5/7/2013, 9:11 AM)

Ok, two, out of how many?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (5/8/2013, 8:39 AM)

Repainting the Martin Luther King Bridge in Port Arthur, TX comes to mind. Finished early, on budget. Repainting the Harbor Bridge in Corpus Christi finished the original project scope early, on budget. Both are pretty big bridges. Admittedly the Harbor Bridge scope was expanded: There were a lot of additional structural repairs which were added to the project later, and the city decided to add a lighting project (there are some neat YouTube videos of the new colored lights.) Both added cost. Even with the extra structural repairs, I believe the Harbor Bridge finished within the original schedule.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (5/9/2013, 11:03 AM)

Mike, it’s not that projects (including big, capital projects) don’t come in on time and on or under’s that, just like in the nightly news, it’s the bad news stories that get the press. In this day and age, doing something right/on time/on budget is a non-event...perfection is expected. But, if get off track or over budget...well, everyone and their dog will know by dinner time.

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