Authorities Cringe as Va. Garage Crumbles

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2008

Signs of trouble with the Herndon-Monroe park-and-ride garage surfaced long before the first commuter's car rolled into the $20 million facility off the Dulles Toll Road that Fairfax County opened in 1999.

The general contractor, Driggs Corp., was 256 days late in finishing, records show. During construction in 1997, cracks appeared in pre-cast concrete pieces intended to support the four-deck, 1,600-space structure. An engineering consultant hired by the county said that, with repairs, the concrete would be sound.

But fresh cracks appeared last spring and chunks of concrete began falling away, creating safety concerns that prompted officials to fence off about 100 spaces.

A new study found "significant deterioration" in the garage roof because of the poor quality of the concrete. Drains were misplaced and inadequate for dealing with storm runoff. In some spots, water and salt had eaten through the concrete and exposed the reinforcing steel bars to corrosion. The engineering firm, Walker Parking Consultants, also questioned whether the garage had adequate supporting steel to withstand high winds or earthquakes.

For Fairfax officials, who take pride in their reputation for efficient management, a $20 million garage that starts to crumble after less than 10 years of use is an embarrassment. Not to mention a major inconvenience for hundreds of commuters who rely on Fairfax Connector bus service between the garage and Reston, Herndon and the West Falls Church Metro station. An advisory on the Fairfax Connector Web site says drivers should expect the garage to be full by 7:45 a.m.

The county says the building is safe but needs considerable work. Although repairs have restored some of the spaces closed in the spring, the roof level was taken out of service in mid-December for structural repairs and waterproofing, eliminating 350 parking spots. They are scheduled to be reopened gradually, beginning in late March. Fixes in other areas will take most of the year and require additional space closures. The total cost is estimated at $5 million.

County records show that complaints about the condition of the garage date to 2003, when commuters cited burned-out lights and unplowed, untreated portions of the roof during winter. In response to a complaint from Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), then-transportation director Young Ho Chang promised "consistent maintenance and ensurance of the safety of the facility."

But there was little follow-up.

"This is a high-demand garage," said Hudgins, who expressed her concerns about falling concrete to County Executive Anthony H. Griffin in a March memo. "This level of deterioration in a heavily used public facility constructed under county auspices that is only seven years old is totally unacceptable," she wrote.

Officials said they have little legal recourse. Driggs filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, and Concrete Structures of Richmond, the concrete subcontractor hired by the firm, has gone out of business.

Fairfax officials said that their quality control and oversight of big construction projects is sound and that they are at a loss to fully explain what happened.

"I can't look at the situation and see anywhere where we dropped the ball," Public Works Director Jimmie D. Jenkins said.

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