Finger-pointing continues of delayed Silver Spring transit center


The construction site at the corner of Colesville Road and Wayne Ave. in Silver Spring, Md. in this March 6, 2012 file photo. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
January 31, 2013

More than two years behind schedule and $80 million over its original budget, the Silver Spring Transit Center remains plagued by finger-pointing and threats of legal action between Montgomery County officials and building contractors over concrete flooring and other structural issues.

Montgomery officials maintain that the long-delayed mass-transit hub at Wayne Avenue and Colesville Road, which would be a central depot for buses, Metrorail and MARC trains in the heart of Silver Spring’s revitalized downtown, will open in September. But they acknowledge that the timetable is contingent on the findings of a consultant’s study commissioned by the county to assess construction and engineering concerns over the three-tiered facility.

The latest round of recriminations surfaced publicly Thursday when Bryant Foulger, managing principal of Foulger-Pratt, the prime contractor on the project, said in an interview that the county has needlessly delayed completion of the center for months.

Foulger said the county has refused to meet with the firm’s engineers to discuss the government’s concerns, first cited in the fall of 2011, about concrete on the facility’s upper levels that was not poured to specified thickness and that may have been inadequately reinforced with embedded steel. There are also cracks in the concrete.

Foulger said that the firm proposed fixes to the problems last spring but that he has received no response from Montgomery officials.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting. We’re kind of at our wit’s end,” said Foulger, whose firm has been a major player in the redevelopment of Silver Spring.

“We’ve been in this community for 50 years, and we are stand-up people. And it’s really frustrating to be stonewalled and not have a chance to solve an issue,” Foulger said.

Joined by his attorney during the 30-minute conference call, he also said construction had been hampered by flaws in the county’s original design, which he said wasn’t “fully coordinated or completed.”

Foulger’s attorney, Judah Lifschitz, added that all phases of construction were closely observed by county staff.

“There’s nothing that happened on this job that had not been reviewed and inspected by the county’s engineers,” Lifschitz said. “This is not like somebody did something in the middle of the night and walked away.”

Some of the company’s contentions are included in a letter sent to the county Jan. 18. It said that if the delays continue beyond Feb. 26, the company is entitled by contract to $7,525 a day in payments.

County officials deflected requests for comment on most of the particulars of Foulger’s assertions.

Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), said officials will have more to say after delivery of the consultant’s study, which is being compiled by KCE Structural Engineers and is due within a couple of weeks. Until then, he said, discussions with the company about construction flaws or how they might be addressed are not productive.

“Once we get the report then we’ll be able to respond to what it is they are saying,” Lacefield said.

“Plus, depending on the findings of the report, the county may be advancing claims of its own on behalf of county taxpayers.”

Lacefield added, however, that the opening of the center would not be held up by litigation. “Nobody wants to open this transit center quicker than we do.”

County officials say privately that questions about the soundness and durability of the building place them in a difficult spot. When the transit center is completed, the plan is to turn it over to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

But if problems persist, it is possible that Metro could refuse to take it over or insist that the county remain on the hook financially for structural problems.

Metro has privately raised concerns about the the strength of the concrete and visible cracking.

Notes from a July 20, 2012, meeting of project managers say: “WMATA does not agree that the strength of the deck is adequate, and wants to know why the deck has cracked and continues to crack.”

When construction began in 2008, the project was viewed as an important part of Silver Spring’s transformation into a walkable, less car-dependent urban community — with 32 bus bays, 54 spaces for cabs, Kiss & Ride drop-offs, and connections to Metro, MARC and possibly a Purple Line light-rail system.

But problems surfaced almost from the beginning, according to county memos and documents. Work was delayed for more than a year because of difficulties in moving utility lines.

County officials complained that contractors didn’t seem to have an adequate number of workers on the site and that they weren’t following construction plans.

The cost of the project has grown from $35 million to an estimated $112 million.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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