Montgomery County awaits word from Silver Spring Transit Center inspector -- Gazette.Net


The county says that while the lead engineer and general contractor for the Silver Spring Transit Center have agreed to push forward with the center’s fixes, the project’s inspector has yet to commit.

David Dise, director for the county’s Department of General Services, told the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday that Robert B. Balter Company — the project’s inspector — sent a letter to the county last week questioning the analysis of a report prepared for the county about the center.

Robert B. Balter Company did not immediately return a request for comment.

The Silver Spring Transit Center — a $120 million transit hub project on the corner of Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue in downtown Silver Spring — was expected to open in 2011. A series of cracks found in the structure and disparities in the thickness of the concrete at the center have delayed the project’s opening by nearly two years so far, and it’s unclear when the center will be open for business.

The county hired Washington, D.C.-based KCE Structural Engineers last year to study the structure, and the report was delivered to the county in March. The report said the transit center contains “serious design and construction defects” that compromise the center’s structural integrity, longevity and safety.

The inspection services needed for the fixes outlined in KCE’s report are “limited,” Dise said Tuesday. If the county cannot move forward with Balter, Dise said the county has other resources it can utilize for special inspection services, noting that Balter’s commitment will not have a “hindering impact.”

He also said that while construction won’t start right away, design work already has begun for the fixes at the center.

Dise said the county is meeting with project engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff on Wednesday to finalize their agreement for remediation. He said it will take about six weeks to engineer the remediation design, including the details of curbs, gutters, drains, railings, curb cuts for ramps, escalators and elevators that have to be accommodated during the process. Once that plan is finished, it will be reviewed by KCE Structural Engineers to ensure it follows what was presented in their report, which Dise said would take about two weeks.

Dise said the next step would be to pass that remediation plan to the general contractor, Rockville-based Foulger-Pratt Cos., and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority so they have an idea of scheduling and the effort required. Dise said once final plans to design are done, those plans will be submitted to the county’s Department of Permitting Services before construction can begin.

Dise said WMATA has 15 work days to review and comment on the remediation plan in its Memo of Understanding with the county. WMATA officials will meet with the county later this week to talk about their expectations, which the county plans to meet in order for WMATA to take over the facility once it is complete.

If everything follows this sequence, Dise said the process will be complete by August. From there, he said, the county will develop a plan for actual construction. While he could not give an exact date for opening, Dise told the council that construction should not take longer than a year.

“None of the identified defects are beyond repair. We can fix this. We will fix this,” Dise said.

Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park said Tuesday that she wants to have a representative of KCE present at the briefings with the county. The county is able to bring a representative from KCE back to perform critical reviews of the process under the county’s agreement with KCE, Dise said.

Floreen and Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring requested Thursday an independent expert be present when they receive briefings from county staff.

“We are not staffed up at the council office to handle the magnitude of issues we have to decide on,” Ervin said last week. “... We have received a $2 million report and we believe we need to have our own expert that can speak to us about the kind of decisions we have to make.”

Councilman George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park told The Gazette on Thursday that he opposed the idea.

“An independent consultant hired by the county in great cost in time and money has already provided a road map to repair this facility,” Leventhal said. “That’s what the county should do: repair the facility and make sure taxpayers are not on the hook for the cost.”

He also said there should not be any additional taxpayer money being requested of the County Council moving forward, as the contractors should be initially footing the bill. Any discrepancies the contractors have in those costs will be handled through litigation, he said.