The Silver Spring Transit Center is two years behind schedule and way over budget. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Metro has agreed to work with Montgomery County on a repair plan for the problem-plagued Silver Spring Transit Center, acknowledging safety concerns but leaving unclear who will pay for the fixes.

Metro officials said Thursday that questions raised in a report issued last week must be addressed before the agency will assume operation of the transit center, which has been beset by severe cracking caused by design and construction flaws.

The needed work, including strengthening interior beams and girders, is virtually certain to push the opening of the Colesville Road bus and train hub — already more than two years behind schedule — into 2015. It will add an estimated $7 million to the cost of the project, which is about $30 million over budget.

“We have reviewed the report and have serious concerns about the safety issues raised as well as the findings of significant technical deficiencies,” Metro Deputy General Manager Robert Troup said in a letter to Montgomery Chief Administrative Officer Timothy Firestine. “Please be advised that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will be unable to accept the [center] with conditions that threaten both the safety of the general public and the efficiency of WMATA’s transit operations.”

The accord leaves major questions to be resolved by the county and the transit agency, which is supposed to operate the center as part of its rail system when it is complete. A key issue is who will pay the additional costs for repairs and long-term maintenance of the three-level concrete structure.

Concrete issues at the Silver Spring Transit Center

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has repeatedly said that taxpayers will not be on the hook for additional costs. But county officials acknowledged Thursday that although they expect the expense to ultimately be borne by contractors, they may have to put up the money and attempt to recover it through litigation, a process that could take years.

“That may be required, yes,” said general services director David Dise, the senior county official overseeing the project. 

As part of its announcement Thursday, Metro insisted that any repairs to beams and girders would have to be accompanied by a county-financed maintenance fund to protect the agency against excessive long-term maintenance costs. Neither Metro nor county officials gave an estimate of how big the fund should be.

Still, at a minimum, Metro’s announcement is a major step toward untangling a six-month impasse between the agency, the county, general contractor Foulger-Pratt and designer and engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff — over when, where and how to repair the center. Representatives from all parties are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss how to proceed with the beam and girder work.

The county’s engineering consultant, KCE, recommended last year that concrete beams and girders be reinforced to better withstand vertical and twisting forces that will be generated by the estimated 240 buses a day expected to use the center. Parsons Brinckerhoff has maintained that the work was not necessary and could weaken the structure. Metro appeared to share the firm’s concerns.

But last week, an independent working group appointed by Leggett said that although a catastrophic collapse is unlikely, the public is at elevated risk from isolated instances of falling concrete unless the structure is reinforced before opening. The report of the panel, headed by former Lockheed Martin chairman Norman Augustine, contradicted repeated assertions by county officials that the transit center’s design and construction flaws had jeopardized long-term durability and maintenance — not safety.

In a carefully worded three-page letter to the county made public Thursday morning, Metro said it concurred with the Augustine report.

Metro’s agreement also extracts Leggett from an awkward public stance in the midst of his campaign for a third term. After vowing to make safety his overriding consideration in deciding when to open the transit center, he deferred to Metro for a final decision on the beam and girder work. He later said he was misunderstood, but not before he was lambasted by his primary opponents, council member Phil Andrews (D-Rockville-Gaithersburg) and Doug Duncan.

At a Thursday briefing on the transit center, which a Metro representative attended, County Council members said they were pleased that all the parties appeared to be on the same page. Some expressed dismay that passenger safety was not addressed in last year’s voluminous KCE report but was flagged by the Augustine group.

Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) called the disparity between the two reports “a little troubling.”

“It’s natural to wonder if there are other things [that need repair],” she said.

Dise said after the hearing that he was not concerned because KCE’s study was a forensic analysis focused on the overall structural integrity of the building.

“They did a very thorough job,” he said.

Other council members said that Metro needed to take some ownership of the long-term issues with the building because, like the county, the agency also signed off on the original design, now considered to be deficient.

“I thought we were partners,” said council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large). “I wish you’d recognize that you played a role in this.”