Metro and Montgomery County officials met for 90 minutes Wednesday in an attempt to resolve their latest round of disagreements over when the long-delayed Silver Spring Transit Center can open and who will pay for its upkeep.
Officials on both sides sounded hopeful notes after the session but said that no issues had been resolved and that no opening date has been set for the beleaguered commuter hub, which is four years behind schedule and $50 million over budget.
“Everybody’s objective is to get the facility open,” said Montgomery’s chief administrative officer, Timothy Firestine.
“We had a good meeting, a very productive meeting,” said Jack Requa, interim general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
The session at the county’s executive offices in Rockville was arranged after Metro told Montgomery officials that recent repairs to the three-level concrete structure showed “signs of degradation” and demanded $15 million from the county to cover any additional costs.
Officials are also bickering over when the new facility could open — with Montgomery County saying both sides have been aiming to launch on Aug. 23, and the transit agency saying no date has been set.
According to documents made available this week by the county, Montgomery and Metro staff spent nearly two months targeting Aug. 23 as the opening date.
In a June 29 e-mail to Metro and county officials, Metro external relations director Lisa Schooley said that although tasks and timelines were subject to change, “the plan’s timeline is currently built assuming an opening date of August 23.”
And the June 8 agenda of a public-relations group working on the transit center rollout said: “As of this date, there are 76 days until the opening,” which would mean Aug. 23.
Requa said Wednesday that Aug. 23 was considered as a possible date because it coincided with a planned system-wide change of bus schedules. That would have made it easier, he said, to integrate new arrival and departure times for buses into the system.
But Requa said it was never a firm opening date. He said the WMATA board — which next meets in September — will have to vote that the center is ready to open before any bus service can begin there.
“It was premature,” Requa said. “People may have gotten ahead of each other.”
Until this week, the saga of the $140 million transit center, beset by design and construction flaws, appeared to be winding down. County officials reported that final repairs to cracked road surfaces and support beams were complete. On Monday, Metro buses rolled through the structure on practice runs.
But Firestine and Montgomery’s general services director, David Dise, the county’s lead official on the job, said that they began to get a different message in a July 10 phone conversation with Requa.
They said Requa seemed to be unaware of the work his operations and marketing staff had been doing around the Aug. 23 date.
Requa informed them, they said, that the transit agency would be rejecting the county’s “punchlist,” a final list of construction items that were completed.
On July 21, Requa sent the county a series of proposed changes to the original 2008 project agreement between the county and transit agency.
Citing continued cracking in the transit center concrete and unspecified “degradation” in recent repair work, Metro asked the county to place $15 million in escrow to cover “extraordinary maintenance and repair” of the facility in the future.
It also called on Montgomery to waive its 25 percent interest in any future development on land adjacent to the transit center (the agency has the other 75 percent) and to provide a 10-year, 100 percent tax abatement for any development on the site.
In his written response, Firestine called the 11th-hour demands “preposterous.” County officials angrily accused the financially strapped transit agency of holding the project “hostage” in an attempt to squeeze more money out of Montgomery taxpayers.
“What’s frustrating for us is that WMATA seems to be in such disarray that the top doesn’t know what the bottom is doing,” Firestine said.