‘I can’t open it, that’s their job,’ Dise says of WMATA’s role in project
by Kara Rose
Montgomery County plans to continue pushing through with remediation work at the Silver Spring Transit Center, despite receiving a letter saying the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority was backing out of the project.
Wednesday’s briefing was the second update from the executive branch to the county council on the progress of the project. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) did not attend the meeting.
Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring stated that she was disappointed by his absence.
“We are all accountable to the voters,” Navarro said, noting that the invitation still stands.
Navarro said the purpose of the hearing was to both improve communication between the executive branch and the council, and explore potential implications of a letter sent to the county from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The letter stated that WMATA would not operate the center due to design and construction deficiencies.
WMATA, which operates Metro and related transit services, partnered with the county on the $120 million transit hub.
The Silver Spring Transit Center was slated to open in 2011, but a series of cracks found in the structure and disparities in the thickness of the concrete have delayed the project’s opening by nearly two years so far, and it’s unclear when the center will be open for business.
In a letter sent to Department of General Services Director David Dise on April 12, the transit authority cited “deficiencies of design and construction of the facility ... of the magnitude and severity, that even if repaired...would unnecessarily place an inordinate maintenance burden onto WMATA.”
Tim Firestine, the county’s chief administrative officer, assured the council that the county will deliver the center based on the Memorandum of Understanding with WMATA. He said it was the county’s intention all along to share the letter with the council. The council however, said it was not privy to it until the letter was published in the Washington Post.
Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said he was displeased with the county’s decision to “vet” the information for “several weeks” before sharing it with the council.
“We’re here because the county places a great value in transparency,” said Berliner, chair of the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. “...Whether or not there was an obligation on the part of the county executive to share this kind of information with the council should not be a question.”
No one from WMATA was present at the briefing, though Councilman Marc B. Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park requested WMATA be present at the next briefing scheduled for June 18.
Elrich also said Wednesday that he did not think the letter from WMATA was as “dire” as it has been portrayed.
Dise said Wednesday that county staff, design firm Parsons Brinckerhoff and general contractor Foulger-Pratt Cos. have been working collaboratively on a strategy for remediation in order to get the center open as soon as possible.
Dise also said that despite invitations to attend, members from WMATA have declined to attend those meetings thus far.
Once the plan is in place, WMATA will have 15 business days to review and comment on the remediation plans, as per the MOU, Dise said. He said a remediation plan should be put in place in about a month.
“Hopefully WMATA will participate in this process so they will know what they’re getting before they get it,” Dise said, noting “I can’t open it, that’s their job.”
When questioned about how legally binding the MOU was for the county on a scale of one to 10, Montgomery County Attorney Marc P. Hansen said Wednesday that it was “an 11.”
Earlier Wednesday, the council’s Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee unanimously supported providing the Office of the Inspector General an additional $100,000 to investigate how key controls in place for the project failed.
Council members Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and Hans Riemer (D-At Large) of Takoma Park requested giving the Inspector General’s office additional money, but emphasized that their request came after learning that Inspector General Edward L. Blansitt III was already looking into the matter.
Blansitt said he indicated to the council that he was interested in investigating the Silver Spring Transit Center issue, and the only question asked of him by the council was whether he had enough resources to do so.
The committee’s recommended $100,000 addition for the Inspector General’s office will appear on the budget reconciliation list, a ledger of all suggested adjustments to Leggett’s proposed budget that the council will evaluate as it finalizes the budget in May.
Staff writer Kate S. Alexander contributed to this report.