Montgomery County report finds no fault with construction practices -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated at 9:20 a.m. on July 31, 2013.

Despite the laundry list of problems at the Silver Spring Transit Center, a report delivered to the county Tuesday found the county uses the best public facility design and construction practices in the industry.

The report ­— “Managing the Design and Construction of Public Facilities: A Cooperative Review” — by the Office of Legislative Oversight compared the county’s policies against those in 13 other jurisdictions and found that the county policies and procedures are among the best practices in the industry. The report, however, does not explore if those practices are being implemented properly.

“We believe the OLO has validated that the practices employed by Montgomery County are keeping with other municipalities in this area who do similar work,” said David Dise, director of the county’s Department of General Services.

The county is awaiting another report, which will assess operation maintenance costs for the Silver Spring Transit Center. KCE Structural Engineers of Washington is performing the assessment at the request of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and results are expected soon, Dise said. The burden of maintenance costs have been a point of contention between the county and the agency.

KCE also delivered a report to the county in March that detailed the problems and potential fixes at the center. Part of the findings included that concrete in the building was cracking and has varying thicknesses.

Dise also said results are expected in the next week or two for ground-penetrating radar testing at the center. The data collected will determine the thickness of the concrete overlay, which is supposed to remedy the cracks and the varied concrete thicknesses.

An agreement between the county and WMATA stipulates that the structure would have a life expectancy of 50 years.

Dise said repairs to the center could be complete before the end of the year. If the repairs are finished on time, the center could open as soon as this year. Should the county miss the weather window, Dise said, the project would be completed in late winter or early spring.

Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner said Thursday that after transit center repairs are complete, maintenance should fall not on the shoulders of the county or Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, but on the contractors responsible for the cracks.

The builders of the $120 million center have started repairing concrete sections. WMATA has said the repairs could increase the long-term maintenance costs of the building.

Rodrigo Bitar, assistant general manager for WMATA, appeared at a County Council briefing July 23 about the center. He said the agency is concerned that the root problem for the excessive cracking has not yet been identified, which he said could affect the longevity and maintenance costs of the structure.

Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda was one of a few County Council members who voiced concerns about the project at the briefing.

Berliner said Thursday he did not agree with WMATA’s “posturing” during conversations with the county.

He said that a certain level of candor helps alert parties that “they need to be real.”

“This can’t be about posturing,” Berliner said. “I think it is inevitable that we will have to have a serious conversation with respect to the maintenance issues. What I object to is using these disputes as a way of advancing that conversation.”

WMATA spokesman Philip Stewart responded to Berliner’s comments in an email late Tuesday afternoon.

“We continue to work with the County toward a mutually agreeable solution that does not place responsibility for extraordinary long-term maintenance costs on Metro’s jurisdictional funding partners. We appreciate Councilmember Berliner’s recognition of this challenge and his efforts to find a constructive solution,” Stewart said in an email.

Before stepping down as the Montgomery County member on the Metro board about a month ago, former U.S. Rep. Michael Barnes (D) said he was part of discussions with WMATA’s general manager about Metro operations, including conversations on the Silver Spring Transit Center.

“I think Metro, in the end, will want to take it over, but they want to be assured that they’re not taking on a lot more trouble in terms of maintenance and repair in the future than they bargained for. I think it’s reasonable that Metro wants to be assured,” Barnes said. “ ... As a Metro user and somebody who would use that transit center, I hope it’s finished and opened quickly and that we can all take advantage of it.”

krose@gazette.net