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Government Joins DC Metro Concrete Suit

Friday, July 13, 2018

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The commonwealth of Virginia and the U.S. government have joined a whistleblower lawsuit filed more than two years ago against the fabricator of concrete used on the D.C. Metro’s Silver Line extension project, after precast concrete panels on the line were found to have been manufactured incorrectly.

Whistleblower Nathan Davidheiser filed the suit in March 2016 after he says he attempted to convince management at Universal Concrete Products, of Stowe, Pennsylvania, to look into alleged widespread falsification of quality-control documentation on products used on the Silver Line project. According to the suit, a company vice president who ordered an audit of the quality-control department was terminated before the audit could take place.

Earlier this year, project leaders revealed that 1,750 panels supplied by Universal were faulty, having been fabricated with an incorrect water-to-cement ratio. The panels had been installed in every station along the second phase of the project, except the Dulles International Airport station.

According to reports, 115 of the panels are being replaced completely, while the other panels will be treated with a silane coating to prevent moisture intrusion.

Weeks after the initial announcement regarding the panels, the two-year-old lawsuit was brought to light and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation into the matter.

Davidheiser’s suit was filed under the False Claims Act and Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act; such whistleblower actions can be joined by the government as an “intervening” party if the government agency allegedly affected finds the argument to be legitimate. The U.S. DOT and Virginia Attorney General intervened in a filing dated July 9.

Cooking the QC Books

According to the suit, during the project, in which Universal supplied $6.1 million in precast concrete products to contractor Capital Rail Constructors (a joint venture of Clark Construction Group and Kiewit Infrastructure South), QC tests on the panels showed air content of less than 4 percent. The specification for the panels called for air content between 4.5 and 7.5 percent, to allow for expansion and contraction of moisture in the concrete in cold weather.

Davidheiser’s complaint claims that QC staff, under the direction of QC manager Andrew Nolan, falsified air-content test data to indicate the panels were acceptable according to the project specification. Over a period of months between 2015 and 2016, the suit alleges, multiple employees brought reports of data falsification to the plant manager and other upper management, but the problem was not addressed.

Dulles Metro station
Mgueylee, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Silver Line project will, when finished, extend the Metro system to Dulles International Airport and beyond; the Dulles station, shown here under construction in 2015, is the only station in the Phase Two section of the project not to contain the faulty concrete panels.

In February 2016, when company vice president Marc Davis, acting on information supplied by Davidheiser, called for an internal audit of the QC department, he was terminated two days later, the suit says. The allegations of false QC reports were never brought to the general contractor, and the suit alleges the practice continued until at least February 2017.

Universal Concrete Products, QC manager Nolan (who reportedly left the company in June 2016) and company president and co-owner Donald Faust Jr. are named as defendants in the suit.

About the Project

The Silver Line project, known as the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project, is a two-phase, $5.684 billion extension of the Metro system from East Falls Church, in Arlington, Virginia, to Dulles International Airport then further west into Loudoun County. The first phase was finished in 2014; the second phase commenced in 2013 and is expected to be complete in 2020.

   

Tagged categories: concrete; Ethics; Lawsuits; Mass transit; Quality control

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