Repairs of Silver Spring Transit Center will start in late summer, at best

April 8, 2013

Extensive repair work on the Silver Spring Transit Center will not begin until late summer at the earliest, and an estimated date for opening the long-delayed bus-and-train hub remains unclear, Montgomery County officials said Monday.

A county spokesman also said that no taxpayer money will be spent on the fixes, which will include ripping out two flawed sections of the center’s second floor. The cost — yet to be determined — will be borne by the project’s design and construction contractors, said Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

“We will not have to do any new appropriations,” Lacefield said.

The repair schedule is contingent on the numerous private firms and government agencies involved in the project devising, reviewing and settling upon a plan to fix serious structural problems with the $119 million facility, which is two years behind schedule and more than $80 million over the original budget. The problems include cracked and inadequate concrete and lack of supporting steel in key locations.

The general contractor, Foulger-Pratt, said it will make the fixes. In a statement Monday, managing principal Bryant Foulger said the company had a “longstanding commitment to comply with the county’s directives.”

Tracking the transit center's cost

David Dise, Montgomery’s director of general services, said in a letter to County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) that the fixes will require up to six weeks of planning and design work by Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project’s original designer. Its work will be submitted for sign-off to KCE Structural Engineers, the firm hired by the county to investigate problems with the building, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which is to operate the center after it opens.

While WMATA reviews the plans, they will be sent to the county’s department of permitting services, which must issue construction permits. The county also will forward the documents to Foulger-Pratt, which will develop a repair schedule.

“If timely progress is made on these items, remediation work should begin in late summer,” Dise said in the letter, written Friday and made public Monday. “The time required to perform the work will be dependent on the schedule provided by Foulger-Pratt and approved by the county.”

Timely progress has been hard to come by on the transit center, a hub for MARC trains, Metrorail and buses in the heart of Silver Spring that was initially estimated to cost $35 million. Construction was first slowed by unforeseen subsurface conditions at the site and relocation of electrical lines. Foulger-Pratt has charged that design drawings from Parsons Brinckerhoff were unclear and led to significant delays. KCE, in its report to the county last month, cited “errors and omissions” by Foulger-Pratt, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Robert Balter Co., the inspections and materials testing contractor.

All have disputed KCE’s findings. Balter, cited by KCE for insufficient attention to concrete quality, said in a letter last week to the county that the report was “incomplete and inaccurate” and had caused the firm “unnecessary damages.” The firm said it was completing a detailed response.

The repairs will require all the major players to collaborate on finishing a job that will almost certainly lead to lawsuits filed in all directions, as contractors seek to recover extra costs from their subcontractors or the county.

County officials said that before other repairs begin, Foulger-Pratt will demolish two key 10-by-30-foot concrete strips on the building’s second floor. KCE said the absence of reinforcing or “post-tensioned” steel inside the concrete created a potential safety hazard. Inadequately reinforced concrete could fail under the weight of passenger buses, engineers said.

Foulger-Pratt has disputed that plans called for post-tensioned steel in the two locations. KCE said that while original contract drawings by Parsons Brinckerhoff indicate that steel was required, subsequent “shop drawings” by Foulger’s steel subcontractor, which were approved by Parsons Brinc­kerhoff, did not.

KCE said that certain concrete beams and girders will have to be strengthened, possibly using fiber-reinforced polymer sheets or rods. Columns with insufficient concrete on the second and third levels of the building will have to be enlarged, as will portions of the roadway where concrete was found to be below the contractually required 8,000 pounds per square inch.

In his letter to Navarro, Dise again emphasized that the building can be fixed.

“Once completed, the transit center will be placed into full and safe operation with the same life and functionality originally intended,” he 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.
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