Dozens of ramps along sidewalks leading to the Silver Line Metro stations in Tysons Corner do not meet federal requirements for providing access to people with disabilities — and they may not be fixed until the end of 2016.
Among the problems: Some of the ramps were installed incorrectly, some are too steep and all have landings that are too narrow to meet standards outlined in the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to inspectors for the state of Virginia.
State officials told the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is constructing the Silver Line, about the problems more than a year ago, according to e-mails and inspection reports.
MWAA contends that no one has been injured by the ramps and that officials have not received any formal complaints.
“None of [the ramps] are unsafe for the disabled or for anyone to use,” said Marcia McAllister, a spokeswoman for the Silver Line rail project. “We have not received any complaints from any advocacy groups.”
But a spokesman for the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that advises the president, Congress and other federal agencies on ADA policy, said there was no excuse for MWAA and Bechtel — the lead contractor on the project’s first phase — not following the law.
“You don’t wait until someone falls down the elevator shaft to fix the elevator,” said the spokesman, Lawrence Carter Long. “Just because someone hasn’t complained yet, doesn’t take the away the responsibility to fix it.”
MWAA said the ramps are being fixed. McAllister could not estimate the cost of the repairs but said they are included in the additional $76 million in cost overruns that the authority announced this past spring. That means that Dulles Toll Road users — who are shouldering the bulk of the project’s cost — as well as MWAA, and Fairfax and Loudoun counties will pay for the fixes. In total, the $5.8 billion rail project, the first phase of which opened in July 2014, is $226 million over budget.
Construction of the Silver Line rail project is being managed by MWAA, but the Virginia Department of Transportation will be responsible for maintaining the ramps and sidewalks along Routes 7 and 123 that lead to the Metro rail stations. VDOT has refused to take control of the sites until the authority meets the ADA requirements.
Late last month, MWAA and Bechtel submitted drawings to state transportation officials detailing fixes for some of the 60 ramps. McAllister said that MWAA will fix 20 ramps because of sloping issues but has not committed to changing the other 40, which do not have the proper size landings to allow for wheelchair movement, state officials said.
Clyde Terry, chairman of the National Council on Disability’s Policy Committee, noted that as the country celebrates the 25th anniversary of the ADA this year, it is important that the public remember the purpose of the law is to be as inclusive as possible, particularly in transportation, which is critical to helping all people get around.
“The standards are the standards, and they need to comply with them,” he said.
According to a timeline provided by VDOT, the authority was told that there were problems with the ramps in March 2014, including damage to the tiles that alert people with disabilities to the fact that they have encountered a ramp.
McAllister initially disputed this account, saying that the authority had not been made aware of the problems until early this year.
“On Feb. 2, 2015, VDOT for the first time provided a list of deficiencies based on alleged failures to comply with their interpretations of federal ADA standards,” McAllister said in an e-mail responding to questions about the timeline.
But when pressed, McAllister acknowledged that MWAA was aware earlier of “minor issues” with the ramps.
“They did identify some ADA issues with the ramps, but they never gave us a final list,” she said. “They still haven’t.”
VDOT’s timeline shows that its ADA specialist did at least two special inspections in 2014 at MWAA’s request. After a July 2014 inspection completed just weeks before the Silver Line’s official opening, the weekly deficiency report compiled by VDOT was amended to include “ADA deficiencies/non-compliances.”
A second inspection was done on Dec. 19, according to VDOT’s timeline. And later that month, Frank Matchner, the designer of record who worked for Bechtel, submitted a summary that acknowledged “multiple deficiencies” as well as his initial proposed solutions.
But the ramps continued to be problematic. And MWAA and VDOT remained at odds over whether they would be fixed.
In February, VDOT sent the authority a list of ADA-specific deficiencies. MWAA acknowledged receiving the list but continued to dispute the findings.
For example, McAllister said project officials disagree with VDOT’s contention that ramp landings need to be five feet square. Project officials built all 60 ramps with 4-by-4-foot landings and said VDOT did not inform them of a rule change. Other flaws included instances in which raised surfaces designed to signal when a person is approaching the end of a sidewalk were worn or partially installed.
Tom Fahrney, special project development manger for VDOT, acknowledged differences in interpretation but said MWAA and its contractors were required to follow current requirements.
Leslie Martin, civil rights manager for VDOT’s Northern Virginia district, said features such as raised surfaces and ramp landings help individuals with disabilities navigate sidewalks and roadways. They are designed to be consistent so that people don’t have to worry when they travel between different cities and states.
Bechtel spokesman Warren Getler said the work would be done but characterized the fixes as “minor adjustments” to the ramps.
“There really is not a safety issue” with the ramps, Getler said.
Phil Posner, a member of Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, said it is important that transit facilities are accessible to everyone.
“If somebody is having difficulty getting some place, it’s important to [for institutions] to take responsibility to help them get there.”