Federal transportation officials have barred the contractor responsible for manufacturing more than a thousand concrete panels for the Silver Line rail project from working on transportation projects involving federal funds for three years.
In 2016, an employee at the company filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging he was fired after raising concerns about the company’s manufacturing process. A subsequent investigation by the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general and the FBI determined that the company had falsified quality-control tests and that some of the panels it had manufactured for the rail project were defective. In 2018, a quality-control inspector at the company pleaded guilty to wire fraud in connection with the case for his role in falsifying test data to show the concrete had passed inspection and for ordering others to do the same.
The company later settled a separate civil case brought by the Justice Department and the commonwealth of Virginia for $1 million.
The debarment will last for three years and means the company cannot receive federal contracts, grants, loans or other financial assistance government-wide. Officials at Universal Concrete Products did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Universal Concrete had a $6.1 million contract with the project’s lead contractor, Capital Rail Constructors, to manufacture more than 1,500 panels used to build exterior walls at five of the six new stations. An investigation determined that flaws in the manufacturing process could make some of the panels vulnerable to cracking. Subsequent inspections of the panels found cracks in some of them and determined that at least 65 did not meet project standards. Those panels were replaced. CRC treated the remaining panels with a special coating to ensure they will meet the 100-year guarantee called for under its contract with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction of the rail line.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which will manage the Silver Line once construction is complete, must also sign off on CRC’s plan for treating the panels.
The second phase of the Silver Line, which will extend Metro service to Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County, was expected to be completed in August 2019 with passenger service to begin later that year or early in 2020. But in addition to the problems with the concrete panels, several other construction issues have delayed completion of the $5.8 billion project until at least 2021.
The FTA, part of the Transportation Department, is involved with the project because the Transportation Department contributed $900 million in funding for the first phase of the rail line, which opened in 2014, in addition to nearly $2 billion in federal loans for the project’s second phase.