Greater Greater Washington

Transit


No answers, no accountability for Silver Spring Transit Center

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.


Silver Spring Transit Center in 2012. Photo by the author.

Last month, Foulger-Pratt filed a claim against Montgomery County, saying the county was responsible for delays in 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 because concrete was poured too thin or too thick in certain areas, raising concerns about its structural integrity.

"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're 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 requested to the transit center. According to the Washington Post, Foulger-Pratt says they're entitled to over $7,500 a day in payments if work is delayed past 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, Lacefield 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."

A planner and architect by training, Dan Reed also writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. 

Comments

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"you won't tell us what to do."

...because the outside engineer's report isn't done yet. Duh, Foulger. Unless "go back in time and manage your concrete subcontractor like you should have" is an option, there's nothing to talk about until KCE's review is finished.

by jag on Feb 5, 2013 10:43 am • linkreport

Who is being held to account for getting the KCE review done on time?? The title sums it up - even for the studies about what has gone wrong.

by Wayne Phyillaier on Feb 5, 2013 10:48 am • linkreport

We know that the concrete poured by Foulger-Pratt does not meet specifications--in places it is too thin and weak, in places it is too thick and heavy, and in places it has cracks. So unless Foulger-Pratt wants to tear out the bad concrete and repour it and their own expense, they need to shut up and wait for the engineering report.

by Alan on Feb 5, 2013 10:49 am • linkreport

So what is the book on which oft delayed project will open/start first? DC Streetcars on H street or the Silver Spring Transit Center? Or will Silver Line Phase 1 stay on schedule and start revenue service first? Stay tuned as the worlds turns.

by AlanF on Feb 5, 2013 11:19 am • linkreport

It sounds like FP is worried about the KCE review and is trying to generate public sympathy ahead of it.

by Tim on Feb 5, 2013 11:24 am • linkreport

Typically PR response from Foulger-Pratt to blame the county for everything to turn public opinion and avoid staining their "stellar" reputation. It's not directly Foulger-Pratt's fault, since it was the subcontractor that screwed up, but they should be held accountable. Hopefully the plans for high-density development (to be built by FP) on the empty lots immediately adjacent to the TC haven't been scrapped.

That said, David Dise (MoCo's Director of GS) should be fired. He has shown no concern that transit center isn't open, has only released (very limited) info to the public after substantial pressure, and could care less whether the transit center opened in Sept 2013 or Sept 2020.

by King Terrapin on Feb 5, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

Great story, Dan. Thanks for following this. Please stay on the case - somebody has to!

This really is gov't at its absolute worst. Silver Spring is a major transit center and this, for all intents and purposes, is still no more than a massive hold in the ground.

Wish we could bring back the old Metro bus terminal circa 2006!

When I first had to start catching the 70 by walking all the way up to Georgia by the Old Post Office it felt unnatural. Now it's a matter of reflex.

I have no faith in Montgomery County or the state to improve this situation.

by John Muller on Feb 5, 2013 12:53 pm • linkreport

That said, David Dise (MoCo's Director of GS) should be fired. He has shown no concern that transit center isn't open, has only released (very limited) info to the public after substantial pressure, and could care less whether the transit center opened in Sept 2013 or Sept 2020.

by King Terrapin on Feb 5, 2013 12:12 pm • link

I could not agree more with the statement above. at some point the buck needs to stop, and living blocks away I have gotten no information that I can rely on regarding this delay. Heads need to roll!

by Matt on Feb 5, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Would have been better off just keeping the location how it was before the transit center inside of having buses up to 6 or 7 blocks away and making transfers between buses horrible.

by kk on Feb 5, 2013 6:36 pm • linkreport

Please keep the heat on MoCo about this, Dan.

by Lindemann on Feb 5, 2013 7:21 pm • linkreport

There are thousands of voters whom the transit center is meant to serve. Isn't this the kind of situation in which phone calls and emails to the county Exec's office might at least get more information released? Collective action tends to move politicians.

by gooch on Feb 5, 2013 8:01 pm • linkreport

Agreed on the collective action. We need to continue putting pressure on them!

by Pat on Feb 5, 2013 9:20 pm • linkreport

this reads exactly like Berlin's new BER airport ... also years late and € € € over budget.

by jef on Feb 6, 2013 5:46 am • linkreport

Were there no bonds issued to assure this project finished on time and in full compliance with the contract documents?

by AndrewJ on Feb 6, 2013 7:54 am • linkreport

What's with the 3x cost overrun? Constant, almost standard, cost overruns destroy the public's confidence in government and their willingness to tax themselves.

by Joe D on Feb 6, 2013 8:09 am • linkreport

@JoeD,

Typical "scope creep" which government related infrastructure projects are infamous for.

Local jurisdictions like nothing more than to be seen "doing" something, so they will needlessly fast track something

Also, governement infrastructure work, whether it be state/local/federal typically suffers from poor management. You will have some mid 20 to mid 30 year old "kid" whose only experience managing anything construction or develop related ended with the construction of a mail box he/she once built for himself, put in charge of what is a highly complex and expensive process. Every DDOT suffers from this.

Privately funded work, not so much. Typically, budgets and time lines are followed because they've hired experienced pros, who are then held accountable on a damn near daily basis.

I point to the 495 Hot Lanes as a perfect example. Privatly managed and mostly privately financed, its 50 month build time came in 2 months late and 8% over budget (well within the 10% contingency set aside for the multi-billion dollar project).

The project was designed, value engineered and then the plans tweaked again before putting a shovel in the ground. Typical government infrastructure projects will start moving dirt while the plans are still in the 30-60% stage. By the time they finish the plans, and do a cursory constructability review, they are already 6 months - 1 year into construction (I am looking at you Silverline).

by Scope on Feb 6, 2013 9:10 am • linkreport

Great article Dan. Thank you.

Here's what I want ---a public forum where county officials, and hopefully Foulger-Pratt and the KCE consultants, brief us. We want to ask questions about what happened, when it happened, and what the remedies are to fix it.

WMATA will not operate their buses in a structure having these concrete flaws. The concrete needs to be fixed.

And the public wants answers. We're the taxpayers -- we are the ones footing the bill (overruns and all) and we are the ones who will use the transit center. We want it to be safe.

by Tina Slater on Feb 6, 2013 11:10 am • linkreport

This is an example of hiring a "local" firm with plenty of experience, but not enough experience maybe building transit related infrastructure, when hiring a more specialized and more broadly experienced firm would have been in order.

I didn't pay attention to the contracting process, so I don't know what went down, so this is just speculation.

by Richard Layman on Feb 6, 2013 1:01 pm • linkreport

@Richard

That's an interesting assertion. I know of design/planning firms that specialize in transit stations – the county hired ZGF, which also designed transit facilities in Salt Lake City and Portland (or Denver, I forget which), to design the SS Transit Center – but I'm curious how many construction companies there are that do the same, and whether this was a consideration during the planning process.

by dan reed! on Feb 6, 2013 1:10 pm • linkreport

@Scope This is not an exclusive government problem. The Cosco under construction at Wheaton Plaza is delayed at least 6 months due to "construction problems". Rumor is that a floor inside collapsed, but because it is private we do not have the information or publicity that a government project does.

by Joe D on Feb 6, 2013 1:30 pm • linkreport

At the very least, the KCE report should be posted to the web. Open government.

by Stuart on Feb 6, 2013 4:36 pm • linkreport

@Joe D,

The original price tag is from more than a decade ago and has nothing to do with what was ultimately built. I don't even think the original proposal was for a multi-story building. Hence the massive price difference - the project is still a bit over-budget though. Big ticket item was the soil unexpectedly needed remediation. Something about buried oil drums.

by jag on Feb 6, 2013 4:50 pm • linkreport

I'm OK with the budget creep and the fact that the total number (+$100 million) seems really high for what I see (Davis Bacon Act). Oh well, those things are standard with publicly funded projects.

I'm taken aback by the behavior of the two sides:
Montgomery County seems to be in over the heads on this project and/or signed an awful contract.
Foulger-Pratt is being pretty pushing for a company that clearly screwed up on a very public project. FP is behaving like a company negotiating from a position of strength and I'm starting to believe that there must be some favorable contract language and/or aggressive lawyers on their side.
Let's cut to the chase and jump to the place this is going to end up anyway:
FP publicly apologizes, cashes their check and walks away.
WMATA makes the county fully liable for any issues with the structure.
The county writes the check to FP, pays for whatever fixes are recommended, self-insures the structure for liability and starts drawing up a plan for the new structure after this one drops a concrete chunk on a bus (no injuries) in 2015.

by Josey23 on Feb 6, 2013 5:38 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the backstory. ZGF was definitely involved in the streetcar stuff for Portland. They've done a lot of other stuff as well.

by Richard Layman on Feb 6, 2013 10:44 pm • linkreport

Cost overruns? Sounds like a win for the contractors.

Contractor-ocracy.

by Mark on Feb 19, 2013 1:26 am • linkreport

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