Montgomery County, contractor disagree on transit hub concrete problem

January 30, 2012

Montgomery County Council members met Monday to assess what they are describing as major flaws in a $101 million Silver Spring transit hub, the indefinite delay in completing the structure — and who is to blame for the problems.

Possible problems involving the pouring of concrete, much more than what was previously disclosed, have spurred talk of a lawsuit among council members.

But officials with the contractor in charge of the project dispute the county’s claims, saying that, based on their data, there is nothing wrong with the structure.

David E. Dise, the county’s general services director, has said that construction workers improperly poured concrete in a few parts of the Silver Spring Transit Center. On Monday, Dise and his staff told county lawmakers that further analysis determined that the problems exist on two floors and that some areas had too much concrete.

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) said about half the center’s second floor has concrete problems. The third floor also has extensive issues, according to diagrams provided by the county.

It remains unclear whether the problems require replacement. County officials said that a more thorough analysis will be completed in March, and that the contractor in charge of construction, Foulger-Pratt, is expected to propose a solution after the study is completed.

But Bryant F. Foulger, a principal at Foulger-Pratt, said company tests of the concrete show no problems with the structure. He added that with any concrete pouring, there will be some parts that are thicker than others. What matters, he said, is whether all parts of the slab are within the appropriate thickness range.

“We don’t think there is a structural issue at all,” he said.

The company sent a letter to the county last week, asking for its analyses and data, Foulger said. He said the company expects to receive the documents shortly and that its structural engineers will analyze them.

Dise declined to comment on Foulger’s remarks. The subcontractor in charge of concrete work, Facchina Construction, did not respond to requests for comment left late last week and Monday.

County legislators went into closed session Monday to discuss potential litigation involving the transit center. During the closed session, council members discussed various scenarios, including the possibility that the county won’t be satisfied with Foulger-Pratt’s proposal, according to a person who attended but was not permitted to speak publicly about the matter.

Dise said officials have not determined whether to pursue legal action, adding that Foulger-Pratt has been cooperative. “As long as the contractor is working with us, we will work with them,” he said.

Dise said the county can charge a penalty of $8,700 a day for delays because of poor performance by Foulger-Pratt or its subcontractors. But he added that the fee has not been charged and that Foulger-Pratt will cover the expenses related to the additional construction.

The council was caught off-guard this month when The Washington Post and other news organizations reported that county officials could no longer estimate how long it would take for the new transit facility to open.

“They’re out of compliance of the WMATA standards,” Dise said at the time, referring to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “It is not even in compliance with industry standards.”

Dise said county and Metro officials first learned of potential problems in late August, when they noticed spalling and flaking concrete. Metro performed its own analyses, the county had a laser analysis done in November and a more technical analysis was completed in late December.

Metro did not respond to requests for comment late last week and Monday.

Construction workers need to continue a number of side projects, including the installation of an underground ventilation system and ground work along Colesville Road. Berliner said some of those projects are being worked on now.

When it does open, the facility is expected to bring Metro, MARC, Ride On, taxies, intercity buses and other transportation options to a single site in Silver Spring’s revitalized downtown.

Council members were not happy with the news. Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said during the meeting that the delay is unacceptable. Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said he thinks that it’s “optimistic” of county officials to think they might be able to repair rather than replace the concrete.

“I can’t see how there won’t be litigation as a result of this,” he said before the meeting.

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