Silver Spring Transit Center: A change of tone from Metro?

September 13, 2013

After months of signaling, intimating and outright threatening to walk away from the unfinished Silver Spring Transit Center, Metro might be changing its public posture on the Montgomery County project, according to Metro and county leaders.

Tensions between the county and the transit agency ran high in March, when a county consultant released a report that declared the facility to be unsafe without major repairs. Metro appeared poised to wash its hands of the troubled project. Rob Troup, Metro deputy general manager, said in an April letter to the county that construction and design flaws were of “a magnitude and severity” that would leave the building too costly to maintain even after repairs.

In June, assistant general manager Rodrigo Bitar told the Montgomery County Council that unless the building’s strength was tested to its satisfaction, Metro would not assume control — as agreed to in a memorandum of understanding with the county.

But the body language in the Montgomery-Metro relationship appears to have relaxed considerably, as evidenced by Tuesday’s County Council briefing on repair progress. Where Metro once mobilized a team of senior managers, including Bitar and deputy chief engineer Tom Robinson, to hold down the witness table, this week the agency’s soft-spoken government relations officer, Charles Scott, was the sole representative.

“I feel that the working relationship has improved over time,” Scott told council members.

Concrete issues at the Silver Spring Transit Center

David Dise, General Services director and the county’s point man, agreed: “There has been a great deal of communication, collaboration and cooperation between the county and Metro staff.”

What accounts for the possible detente? It could be, as County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said in the spring, that Metro’s initial stance was a negotiating tactic, aimed at extracting the most favorable possible financial terms from the county.

Scott declined to comment Tuesday.

Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) said the agency, which signed off on all major design and construction issues, may have belatedly realized that if it wants to eventually collect damages from those responsible for the deficiencies in the building, it will have to work with the county, not against it.

“It doesn’t do them any good to be on the wrong side of that,” Elrich said.

— Bill Turque and Dana Hedgpeth

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