Montgomery officials say Metro expected to honor deal, operate transit center

Montgomery County officials said Wednesday that they expect Metro to honor its agreement to operate the Silver Spring Transit Center after construction and design flaws have been fixed.

A. Robert Troup, deputy manager at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, told the county in an April 12 letter that the magnitude of the problems — including cracked concrete and the absence of supporting steel in key locations — would make maintenance of the $120 million regional bus-and-train hub too expensive.

Timothy Firestine, Montgomery’s chief administrative officer, told County Council members at a hearing Wednesday that its 2008 memorandum of understanding with the transit agency was binding and that any indication to the contrary “is purely legal posturing by WMATA.”

“Our relationship with WMATA is governed by [the memorandum],” Firestine said, “and can’t be superceded by a letter from WMATA.”

The county’s contractors are expected to begin making repairs this summer, and officials reiterated that they intended to deliver a first-class facility to Metro. But Metro is standing by Troup’s letter.

Concrete issues at the Silver Spring Transit Center

“Our position has not changed from what we said in the letter,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “The expectation is that we would have accepted it had it been built to our standards. It is not designed or constructed to our standards.”

Stessel added that Metro is prepared to operate Metrobus service from the transit center but nothing more.

But there have been signals that Metro’s stance is — as County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) suggested last week — part of a negotiating strategy to extract from the county the most favorable terms on maintenance expenses. At the hearing, county officials produced an April 15 e-mail from Charlie Scott, a Metro government affairs officer, to Gary Erenrich, the county Transportation Department’s liaison to the transit agency. The e-mail indicated that there is room for negotiation.

“As we discussed, please rest assured that this is not an attempt to take advantage of the unfortunate circumstances the County is facing with construction of the SSTC,” Scott wrote. “We had assumed all along that Metro would, one day, operate and maintain the facility. I am sure as we restructure the underlying agreements, there will be recognition that Metro’s forecasted operating and maintenance costs need to be part of the equation.”

Neither the county nor Metro has offered a recent estimate of what it would cost to operate and maintain the three-level center on Colesville Road. In 2008, the county estimated annual costs at $2 million, a figure that is now almost certainly out of date.

Council members urged Firestine and General Services Director David Dise to aggressively pursue talks with Metro. Firestine said he would be meeting soon with Metro General Manager Richard Sarles.

“Sounds like a good idea,” council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) said.

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.
Dana Hedgpeth is a Post reporter, working the early morning, reporting on traffic, crime and other local issues.
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