Montgomery council dismayed that Leggett withheld Metro letter on transit center

Montgomery County Council members expressed displeasure Friday at County Executive Isiah Leggett’s (D) decision to withhold Metro’s April 12 letter saying that it would not operate the Silver Spring Transit Center as planned because of construction defects.

All nine members signed a letter to Leggett Friday morning admonishing him for violating a pledge to keep the council informed of important developments regarding the troubled project. The letter asks him to appear before the council on Wednesday afternoon.

The $120 million transit hub has been plagued by more than two years of delays and tens of millions of dollars in cost overruns. Repairs are expected to begin sometime this summer but no opening date has been set.

Under a memorandum of understanding with the county, Metro is supposed to assume control of the center and operate it as part of its system. But Metro deputy general manager of operations A. Richard Troup said in the April 12 letter that even if construction and design issues are fixed they will result in unacceptable maintenance costs.

The transit agency’s new stance was first reported by The Post Friday morning.

Concrete issues at the Silver Spring Transit Center

“I imagine all nine of us are very chagrined,” said council member George Leventhal (D-At Large).

“The executive should have told us about it immediately,” said council member Hans Riemer (D-At-Large). “We’re trying to have an everyone-on-the-same-page strategy to protect the taxpayers. We’re offering a climate of constructive engagement and this kind of action doesn’t help.”

Leggett said he didn’t share Metro’s letter because he saw it not as a serious message but an opening gambit for negotiations over who will cover maintenance costs.

“I didn’t consider it to be significant,” Leggett said. “It’s nothing more than a bargaining tool. I thought we’d conveyed that message [to the council] that there would be a lot of jockeying back and forth...The more we engage in a back and forth only enhances their negotiating position, and I don’t want to engage in a public negotiation.”

Leventhal rejected Leggett’s explanation. “I think that shows disrespect for legislative branch in which he served for 16 years. He could have sent it over with a cover letter saying that he continues to negotiate.”

Riemer said he was not surprised by Metro’s position. “It’s not a whole lot different from ours,” he said. “They don’t want to be liable for maintenance costs and neither do we. I don’t think we ever thought they were going to accept liability for maintenance costs they weren’t expecting.”

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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