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Agency Wants Out of Botched $120M Hub

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

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Already $80 million over budget and more than two years behind schedule, a $120 million Maryland transit center will not be used as planned because its structural flaws are too expensive to repair and maintain, the hub's intended operator now says.

And so, as it has previously warned, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has told Montgomery County (MD), where the structure is located, that the agency will “not accept the Transit Center as contemplated by the Memorandum of Understanding between WMATA and Montgomery County,” according to a letter Friday (April 26) from the Montgomery County Council to the County Executive.

SSTC - Kiss & Ride
Photos: Montgomery County Government

The center's top level features 54 "Kiss & Ride" spaces and taxi spaces.

The letter quotes a report in the Washington Post that says A. Robert Troup, the transit agency’s deputy general manager of operations, notified county officials in a letter April 12 that the building falls short of standards outlined by the agency in the agreement.

'Inordinate Maintenance Burden'

The issues are of a “magnitude and severity,” Troup said, that even if repaired “would unnecessarily place an inordinate maintenance burden onto WMATA,” the Washington Post reported, quoting the letter.

Construction on the three-story, multimodal Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center outside Washington, D.C., began in 2008, but concerns arose in 2010 and construction stalled more than a year ago in a dispute over major flaws reported in the concrete.

Under a 2008 agreement, WMATA is supposed to take control of the hub from Montgomery County and operate the center after completion.

Concrete Cracking, Coating Damage

Independent analysts have determined that the concrete falls short of the required 10-inch minimum thickness on two of the center's three levels, county officials have said.

SSTC - escalators

Concerns about cracked concrete, concrete thickness, and other problems arose as early as 2010. Construction began in 2008.

Other issues have included damaged protective coatings on embedded steel, extensive cracking in the slabs, and inadequately strengthened concrete and missing steel supports. At one point during construction, a post-tensioning cable “popped out of the concrete and cracking was observed,” a structural study reports.

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

Montgomery County Council president Roger Berliner has called the situation a “serious problem.” The county determined earlier this month that only 37 percent of the structure's concrete slab thickness is within the allowable construction tolerances (42 percent is too thick, and 21 percent is too thin, the county says).

Scaling Back

Now, WMATA reportedly says that it will offer only local bus service from the center—and only after repairs are complete. Furthermore, the agency says, it will “no longer pursue plans for inter-city bus operations from the center,” according to The Post.

The letter was reportedly delivered April 12 to David Dise, Montgomery County’s director of the Department of General Services, according to the council. Now, the council wants to know why it was not informed of WMATA’s decision and has asked the county executive to appear before the panel May 1 with an update.

SSTC _ Storm Drain

Final concrete work on the last deep storm drain manhole was on track for completion in late 2011 as part of the on-site stormwater management system.

Repairs are not expected to begin until this summer, and the scope, cost and responsible party remain in hot dispute.

Structural Study: 'Errors and Omissions'

An independent structural evaluation of the superstructure commissioned by the county and released last month concluded that “errors and omissions” by designer Parsons Brinckerhoff, Foulger-Pratt, and inspections and materials testing firm Robert B. Balter Co. had left the center unusable and “a significant safety hazard.”

The 101-page report details numerous design problems, including:

  • Insufficient corrosion inhibitors in concrete;
  • Failure to consider “various required limitations on stress induced during initial post-tensioning”—stresses that induced cracking, the report says; and
  • Induced forces that “overbalanced” the structure due to post-tensioning forces that exceeded the weight of the slabs, beams and girders.

The report says that inspections performed during construction “were not per” the contract requirements and that the concrete used “has lower compressive strength than required” by the contract. The study also noted “insufficient design/construction coordination.”


Only 37 percent of the concrete thickness in the structure is within acceptable construction tolerances, according to an independent structural study.

Although the concrete requires that the structure have a 50-year service life, the structural analysis said that corrosion of the concrete slabs where the “epoxy coating is compromised” could begin by 12.5 years.

What Now?

WMATA has not commented publicly on the letter obtained by The Washington Post. It is not clear who would operate the center if WMATA does not, or what legal fallout would ensue should WMATA bail out.

Funded 53 percent by federal funds, 11 percent by Maryland and 36 percent by the county, the hub was supposed to generate “over 4,200 additional daily bus and rail trips” and be the basis of a mixed-use project that would also include apartments, condominiums and a hotel.

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. Its future is now highly uncertain.

Dise told the Post that he thought the letter was “an initial position,” not “a final position.”

Montgomery County said also expressed confidence in a statement that said: “The remediated Transit Center will open with the expected 50-year life span with full service at no additional cost to county taxpayers once the prescribed fixes are completed."

County spokesman Patrick Lacefield told The Gazette of Maryland that WMATA's letter was “not serious.”

“There are other options,” Lacefield told the paper, “but we’re not talking about those yet.”


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

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