Tuesday, February 5, 2013

no answers, no accountability for silver spring transit center

Silver Spring Transit Center From Cameron Street Parking Garage
The Silver Spring Transit Center last year. Photo by the author.

Neither Montgomery County nor construction company Foulger-Pratt will take responsibility for ongoing delays at the Silver Spring Transit Center. And until outside consultants release their findings, which were supposed to come out last month, it's unclear what's wrong with it in the first place.

Last month, construction company Foulger-Pratt filed a claim against Montgomery County, saying that the county was responsible for delays in completing the Silver Spring Transit Center, a 3-story building which will have bus bays for Metrobuses, Ride On, commuter buses, UMD shuttles, intercity buses and more, along with space for a future Purple Line station.

The project has now been stalled for over a year due to concerns about the transit center's structural integrity, namely concrete that was poured too thin or too thick in certain areas.

"This transit center could have and should have been open months ago for the good of this community," said Bryant Foulger, managing principal at Foulger-Pratt, in a brief phone conversation. "We're not the only ones who's frustrated. We're all waiting."

The transit center was first proposed 20 years ago. Costs for the project have more than tripled since money was first set aside in 1999, to $112 million. Originally scheduled to open in 2009, the transit center should open this fall, according to Patrick Lacefield, spokesperson for County Executive Ike Leggett.

Montgomery County has hired KCE Structural Engineers to prepare a report on the status of the transit center, which was supposed to be delivered at the end of January. "They know we want to get started, but we asked them to give it a very good look," Lacefield said in another phone conversation.

Foulger says they offered to help fix the problem, but haven't received a response. The county hasn't allowed their engineers to meet with Foulger-Pratt's engineers.

In the meantime, Foulger-Pratt has filed 35 separate delay claims, some of which the county has acknowledged and paid for, said Judah Lifschitz, a lawyer representing Foulger-Pratt. He claims that the county has yet to pay for "millions of dollars" in changes they've had made to the transit center at their request. According to the Post, Foulger-Pratt says they're entitled to over $7,500 a day in payments if work is delayed after February 26.

Lacefield wasn't able to immediately confirm how much the county owed Foulger-Pratt, though Leggett recently proposed setting aside $7.5 million to pay for needed improvements.

"What we'd really like to do is sit down and let's discuss this," said Foulger. "We get the right people in the room, we get the right experts, and we move forward. That's how we do it in the private sector."

The county is waiting until the report is released to make any further statements. "We're not going to respond to that until we get the final report," said Lacefield. "Depending on those findings, we may be advancing claims of our own on the behalf of taxpayers."

Whenever the report does come out, Lacefield said there are no plans for a public forum on the transit center, as requested last month by Action Committee for Transit, a Montgomery County advocacy group. (Full disclosure: I sit on ACT's board.) "Great, let's have a forum, but let's have something to talk about" first, he said.

Until then, Foulger stands by the quality of their work. "The building's safe," said Foulger. "It's not a matter of safety. The only thing that's left is what you want done and you won't tell us what to do."

The county, meanwhile, is willing to take its time to ensure a good product. "Nobody wants to get this done quicker than we do," Lacefield said, "but we also want to get it done right."

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