Transportation Department honors Metro safety whistle-blower

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 17, 2009; B03

The whistle-blower who alerted federal officials to potential safety issues with a bridge that will carry Silver Line Metrorail trains over Interstate 66 has received a commendation from the inspector general for transportation.

Steve T. Mackey, 49, bridge manager until last year for the Dulles rail extension, was honored with a letter of thanks from U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovel III.

"This incident brings to mind one of the fundamental canons of the code of ethics for the American Society of Civil Engineers," Scovel wrote in a letter he presented to Mackey at DOT headquarters in Washington on Friday. " 'Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.' Your actions exemplify this ethic and are a credit to you and your profession."

A crew doing soil borings for a flyover of I-66 that will carry trains between East Falls Church and Wiehle Avenue in Reston discovered 13 foundations dating from 1977 buried under the highway and the existing Orange Line. Engineers for Dulles Transit Partners, which is building the first 11.7 miles of the rail line to Dulles International Airport, decided to use 11 of the foundations as supports for the bridge but declined to test most for load bearing.

Mackey left the project in 2008 in part out of frustration over the contractor's decision to overrule him and forgo testing. He brought his concerns to the inspector general's office, and his information persuaded the assistant inspector general for highway and transit audits to refer the issue to the Federal Transit Administration in November 2008. Federal officials were concerned that without adequate testing there would be no way to guarantee that the old foundations could hold the weight of the bridge and subway trains.

A safety review by the FTA and the intervention this fall of Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, reported by The Washington Post last month, resulted two weeks ago in a new safety testing plan from the regional airports authority, which is managing the $2.6 billion rail project. Rogoff had criticized management of the project by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority as unresponsive and lacking sufficient oversight.

Under the plan, Dulles Transit Partners will be required to test all the foundations, including one between the Orange Line tracks that is difficult to access, and Metro will be required to shut down service while the work is done. FTA spokesman Paul Griffo said Wednesday that the agency is continuing to review the plan.

Mackey lives in Fairfax County and now works as bridge manager for an engineering consulting firm based in Tysons Corner.

Rodolfo Perez, an engineer adviser for the inspector general and the lead investigator in the case, also was acknowledged for his work.

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