Silver Line deal’s real winner could be Bechtel

Construction on the Silver Line in November. The new 11 mile rail line is expected to open in early 2014. (Tracy Woodward/Washington Post)
Construction on the Silver Line in November. The new 11-mile rail line is expected to open this summer. (Tracy Woodward/Washington Post)

(This post has been updated.)

When it unveiled last week, the agreement between the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Metro was heralded by both sides as a deal that would enable riders to begin boarding Silver Line trains as soon as this summer.

And while riders certainly will be pleased that after months of delays they could be riding the new Silver Line before Labor Day, the real winner in the deal may very well be Bechtel.

Had MWAA rejected contractor Dulles Transit Partner’s second attempt at having the project certified complete, the construction giant could have faced hundreds of thousands – perhaps even millions — of dollars in penalty fees for not completing the project by its contracted date.

Under terms of the agreement between MWAA and DTP, which is led by Bechtel, if the first phase of the Silver Line was not completed within seven months of Sept. 9,2013, the contractor could have had to pay $25,000 a day until work on the first phase of the $5.6 billion project was complete. That fine would increase the longer the work took to be completed. Ultimately, DTP could have been required to pay more than $9 million in fines.

We say “could” because Bechtel officials had hinted they did not believe they would have had to pay the fines because MWAA had added additional work, which raised questions in the company’s mind about whether it would have to adhere to the April 9, 2014, deadline. MWAA officials, when pressed, said they preferred to focus on getting the project done, rather than a potential legal battle.

Bechtel officials said they’re not getting any special breaks.

“We submitted and were granted substantial completion because we met the requirement for substantial completion,” said spokeswoman Michelle Michael. “The April 9 date was not a factor in our decision to submit for [substantial completion].”

(Note: “substantial completion” is the contract term that says Bechtel’s work is essentially done.)

MWAA officials also maintained they did not sign off on the project just to avoid a court battle. “Ultimately, substantial completion is substantial completion and when it’s reached, it’s reached,” said MWAA spokesman Chris Paolino.

Added David Mould, another MWAA spokesman: “[Bechtel] had to meet the requirements, which is why we took the entire 15 days to make sure of that.”

Readers may recall that while MWAA is overseeing construction of the rail line, Metro will operate and manage it.

Under the agreement signed last week, Metro will allow Bechtel additional time to complete work even after the project has been turned over to Metro’s control. If Metro waited until all work was completed by Bechtel before taking control, Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said Silver Line service would not start until late 2014.

Among the work that needs to be completed before Metro accepts the project, the contractor must tear out and reinstall hundreds of speakers that did not meet fire codes, install air conditioning units in escalator machine rooms and improve the reliability of traction power circuit breakers. The contractor also must resolve a signal problem that affects system reliability.  A full list of work that must be completed is available here.

At the MWAA board of directors’ meeting in March, Chairman Frank M. Conner III said simply: “We’re dealing with some very frustrating things here. We just implore you — let’s focus on getting this completed and not focus on litigation.”

 

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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