ROCKVILLE – The County Council has introduced a bill to approve an additional $21 million in funding to finish repairs to the Silver Spring Transit Center, which has suffered multiple design and building hiccups since construction began in 2008.
The money will go toward the final remediation fixes needed for the three-tier structure, which the county is constructing at the Silver Spring metro station to accommodate buses, Metrorail, MARC commuter tracks and eventually a light rail Purple Line stop.
The project, which now has a total cost of about $141 million, was supposed to open in 2010 but got delayed when the county noticed flaking concrete and exposed cable casings earlier that year.
The county hired outside firm KCE to document the construction problems in 2012 and received their report in 2013. This last round of the remediation strategy includes additional reinforcement of beams and latex overlay of the middle level that must be done in warm weather. The county also took the extra time to update the design to meet the most recent accessibility standards, according to Department of General Services Director David Dise.
Dise said the repairs should finish in April or May of 2015. WMATA, who has approval power over the project, will inspect the center before it can officially open.
The $21 million is coming from a supplemental appropriation request of $16,750,000 as well as about $5 million in transfers of funds leftover from completed Department of Transportation projects. $5 million of the supplemental appropriation is using funds from three projects – North Potomac Community Recreation Center in Rockville, the Glenmont fire station and the Ross Boddy Neighborhood Recreation Center in Sandy Spring – that had money budgeted for this fiscal year but will not need it until fiscal 2016.
Dise said the county fully intends to recover the money for the remediation work from the responsible parties.
“The county executive has always maintained with the first realization of these problems that we would hold the parties responsible for these problems, accountable for every expense incurred. In order to complete this project, we’re moving forward with the repairs but we intend to seek and recover those costs from those parties,” Dise said.
Dise would not speculate on who would be legally responsible or for how much, but said that would be determined through negotiations or legal proceedings. The transit center’s general contractor is Foulger-Pratt Contracting and the project’s engineer is Parsons Brinckerhoff.
Even though the process will take time, Leggett said he is optimistic the county will be able to hold the parties responsible.
“There’s always some risk, certainly there is, but I think we have a very strong case for the problems associated with the center and the fault and responsibilities for that and we intend to pursue every legal option available to us to recover the money,” Leggett said.
The County Council members said they understood the need for the request, but Council President George Leventhal (D-At large) said providing the funding would be a “bitter pill to swallow.”
“The urgency in getting this facility open and accessible to the public is what is on my mind. I’m as aggravated as my constituents are and I know that all of my colleagues are frustrated and I know that the public is frustrated,” he said. “But I do think the right thing to do now is to provide the cash flow necessary to complete the project, pursuing every possible legal means to have the county reimbursed.”
Joan Fidler, president of the Montgomery County Taxpayers’ League, said she also understood the need to fund the project, but was not sure the county will be successful in recovering funds from the responsible parties.
“That sounds like some kind of aspirational statement because we are going to go into suing them, this is going to be a long, protracted process and we may or may not get redress for this,” she said. “Imagine what the $21 million could have bought us.”
But Paula Bienenfeld, president of the Montgomery County Civic Federation, said she did not see the need to continue the project and felt the council did not ask for enough proof that the county would get the money back.
“This is an irresponsible use of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” she wrote in an email. “This money would be better spent on, for example, mental health support and homes for the homeless members of our community; libraries; or first responders, all of which are stressed. The council should end this and turn the (transit center) into a park like the Highline in New York. Stick a fork in it. We are done.”
Fidler suggested a “postmortem review” of how the county contracts so the county shares the risk and how the Department of Permitting Services monitors construction.
The county plans to do an extensive review of the process once it is done, according to Leggett. But he also said the lessons learned may not be as immediately applicable because this is a rare type of project for the county.
“This is going to be a highly, highly reviewed project. But let me also say this about the project that people have to keep in mind: this is not like a building a school, or a typical road, or a bridge, which you do every year…and the lessons to be learned to apply to that are immediate and clear,” he said. “There are probably some lessons to be learned (with the transit center) about responsibility, accountability, management that we would always go back and review, but this is not like a repeat performance of something that will happen and be utilized repeatedly.”
The County Council will hold a public hearing on the bill on Jan. 13 at 1:30 p.m. and is expected to act on it that day.