Every weekday, Dan Reed walks past the chain-length fence that encloses the under-construction Silver Spring Transit Center on his way to and from work.
Like many area residents, he wonders when the $119 million project finally will be done. Officials have set opening dates and delayed them several times after inspectors found structural cracks in the concrete that signified a safety hazard in 2010, when cost estimates were about $95 million.
“It’s not only an inconvenience for travelers, but an embarrassment for Silver Spring and the county,” said Reed, an urban planner and designer who lives near downtown Silver Spring. “It sends a message to anyone considering moving to Silver Spring or locating their business here that this area will be hard to access and that the county isn’t able to finish what it’s started.”
Workers are waiting until there are several consecutive days of warmer temperatures to perform concrete overlays on two levels, Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), said Tuesday. Temperatures dipped into the low 40s early Monday morning.
Once the project can be started, it will take about 12 weeks for the concrete work, he said. The county then can turn it over to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, assuming another issue of possible remediation work on interior beams and girders is resolved, he said.
“We want to open a facility with a life expectancy of 50 years and make sure it’s safe,” Lacefield said. “We can’t let politics get in the way. ... Nobody wants to get this done sooner than we do, but we want it to be done right.”
The project is designed to link Metro, the MARC commuter train and the county’s bus system and to draw more pedestrians and businesses to downtown.
On Tuesday, the county released results of a report by an advisory panel headed by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine that concluded that remediation work on beams and girders “to correct the design deficiencies” should be done before it opens. The panel, which included three construction experts and worked pro bono, cited possible safety concerns, as well as maintenance issues.
The county’s consultant, KCE Structural Engineers, says remediation work is a long-term maintenance issue, not a question of safety.
That issue has been debated by officials from project engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff, who say remediation work is not necessary and could even be harmful. WMATA, the county’s customer, also has expressed concerns over potential damage to the structure from remediation work.
“The design and construction of the Silver Spring Transit Center has been widely portrayed as a troubled undertaking,” the Augustine-led report says. “However, if the steps described herein are pursued, it should prove to be a very effective facility. The committee deems it unwise to open the facility and subsequently make potentially significant repairs while the center is in operation.”
The panel did not see any evidence of a major structural failure, even with the facility in its present form. But it said it was “particularly important that remediations ... be implemented promptly in order to avoid lesser safety hazards.” Those hazards include concrete chunks falling on people, the report says.
“The likelihood of sudden failure which could impact safety to large numbers of persons is considered to be low provided proper long-term maintenance and regular biannual inspections are performed,” the report says.
The work would add about $7 million to the center’s cost and could delay the opening into 2015, the panel says.
Leggett said in a statement released Tuesday that the county is speaking with Parsons Brinckerhoff and WMATA representatives about a binding financial guarantee from Parsons to cover any possible future beam and torsion issues that might occur to mitigate concerns raised by KCE and the Augustine-led panel.
“The county remains committed to turning over to WMATA a safe and durable facility and to ensure that any additional transit center costs caused by faulty workmanship, design or inspection are paid by the private parties responsible — not by the county taxpayers,” Leggett said.
The Montgomery County Council heard an update in early April that more work could be needed to strengthen the facility’s interior beams and girders, possibly delaying the opening by a year or more.
Former County Executive Doug Duncan said April 23 that he’s concerned that county officials will keep studying the situation when “it’s time to start construction and stop studying.” Duncan, Leggett and Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg are competing in the June 24 Democratic primary for county executive.
Duncan, the county executive from 1994 to 2006, said if the opening drags into 2015, it will be nine years after he “lined up support and secured the funding to get this project off the ground.”
“This situation epitomizes the paralysis in county government,” Duncan said.
There were delays with the project when it was in a smaller version when Duncan was county executive. For instance, his administration announced in 2000 that the county’s work on the project would be completed by 2003. Duncan said the project was broadened when he was county executive, but it was time to get it completed.
Pedestrians now have to walk a significant distance around the fence near the corner of Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue to get to and from buses and the Metro.
“It is an inconvenience for people who live and work here to maneuver around the site,” said Bruce Lee, president of Lee Development Group, which has its office in downtown Silver Spring. “People want this project to open, but they also want to make sure it’s safe.”
“I’d like to see the transit center open as soon as possible,” Silver Spring resident Diana Post said. “But I hope it won’t have safety problems.”