Bad speakers, wrong cable add to Silver Line delays


A portion of the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station is seen during a November tour of the Silver Line. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Among the problems that must be fixed before the first phase of Metro’s new $5.6 billion Silver Line is completed: Hundreds of speakers at the five stations will have to be torn out and replaced because they don’t meet fire code. And cable that allows radio communication inside a tunnel in Tysons Corner will have to be replaced because it also does not meet code requirements.

The revelations Wednesday at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s monthly board of director’s meeting prompted former congressman Thomas M. Davis III, chairman of the panel’s Dulles Corridor Committee, to dub the ongoing saga “a soap opera” and request that the authority begin exploring its legal options.

“How close are we to substantial completion?” an exasperated Davis demanded at one point.

Project officials had no good answers.

“We’re going down the list, and we’re checking it twice,’’ said Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the SilverLine project. “I can’t give you a time because I don’t have one.”

Added MWAA’s president and chief executive, John E. Potter: “You can’t call a date right now. There’s just too much in flux.”

More than a month has passed since Dulles Transit Partners, the contractor responsible for building the first phase of the project, told MWAA that it believed the rail line was completed — only to be told in late February that work was far from done. At that time, MWAA said the contractor had failed to meet seven of 12 criteria set out in its contract. The issues ranged from missing safety certificates to problems with elevators and escalators at the rail stations.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman said DTP, which is led by construction giant Bechtel, had not received a “definitive list” of what fixes must be made for the project to be complete — a comment that seemed to put the onus on MWAA.

The Bechtel spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company was working to resolve the issues.

“What I can tell you is that this is one of the most complex construction projects in the United States and the work being done now is not uncommon on a project of this magnitude,” spokeswoman Michelle Michael said in an e-mail. “We are working closely with MWAA to address outstanding matters as our focus is on successfully delivering this project.”

For his part, Nowakowski said that MWAA and DTP officials have been meeting several times a day and that the relationship has remained cordial. And while the additional delays aren’t ideal, he said, they have given the two parties an opportunity to sit down and focus more intensely on resolving the outstanding issues.

Nowakowski said that the station speakers, for example, were approved for installation as part of the project’s design review process and that similar equipment is used in the current Metro system. But state inspectors said they could not approve them for use because they do not meet code requirements.

He also said he will ask the board next month to approve a contract for the system that feeds train information — including location — to Metro’s control center, because efforts to make the current equipment work have failed. According to Metro officials, the replacement of the equipment would not further delay the start of passenger service, because the line could be operated for a short time without it in place.

The much-anticipated rail line, which will include four stops in Tysons Corner and one in Reston, is one of the largest infrastructure projects underway in the United States. Officials had hoped to begin service by the end of 2013.

Construction of the line, which is being built in two phases, is being overseen by MWAA, and whencompleted, the line will be operated by Metro. The first phase is expected to cost about $2.9 billion.

Pressure to complete the project will only intensify. Delays in starting passenger service mean lost revenue for Metro to the tune of $2 million to $3 million a month.

And for DTP, failing to deliver the project by early April could have substantial financial consequences. If work on the rail line isn’t completed within seven months of Sept. 9, 2013, DTP could face fines of $25,000-a-day until the work is done. If the project is not completed 92 days after that April date, contractor DTP faces roughly $2.3 million in fines, with the daily penalty increasing to $75,000 a day.

Ultimately, DTP could be required to pay more than $9 million in fines.

To avoid legal wrangling, MWAA’s Potter emphasized Wednesday that the goal is to have the project completed before the April date when DTP could face penalties. DTP officials have already hinted that the April deadline may be negotiable, but MWAA probably will face public pressure to not yield.

“We’re dealing with some very frustrating things here,” said Frank M. Conner III, chairman of the MWAA board. “We just implore you — let’s focus on getting this completed and not focus on litigation.”

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.
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