Repairs on Silver Spring Transit Center to start even though some issues remain -- Gazette.Net







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Officials are scheduled to meet Monday for a discussion on the future of the Silver Spring Transit Center and how to make repairs to the long-delayed structure.

For now, no one knows for sure when the facility will open.

Representatives from KCE, the contracting firm hired by the county, and Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm on the project, will meet Monday to finalize a plan for the transit center in downtown Silver Spring. Staff from the county and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority also are expected to attend.

County and WMATA staff briefed the Montgomery County Council on the status of the project Thursday.

There won’t be a precise timeline for when the structure will be ready to open until after Monday’s meeting, but the county’s goal is still to have the center ready to be turned over to Metro by the end of the year, County Chief Administrative Officer Timothy L. Firestine told the council.

Meanwhile, Metro reiterated that it will not take control of the transit center from the county until repairs are made to address safety concerns raised in a report commissioned by the county, The report was released in April.

The study by former Lockheed Martin Chairman and CEO Norman Augustine and three other engineering and construction experts found that vertical stress known as shear and twisting stress known as torsion should be fixed by reinforcing some beams and girders inside the transit center. The fixes should be done before the center opens to the public to avoid potential danger to travelers from falling concrete or other hazards, the report says.

In a letter to Firestine on Wednesday, Metro Deputy General Manager of Operations A. Robert Troup wrote that the transit authority wouldn’t accept the transit center until the repair of conditions that “threaten both the safety of the general public and the efficiency of WMATA’s transit operations.”

The repairs would cost more than $7 million and take about eight to 10 months, although they could be done in as soon as five months if crews work multiple shifts and on weekends, the report said. That schedule would be more costly, however.

If the problems are not fixed, the shear and torsion could cause sudden cracking that would reduce the load that the concrete slabs could carry and limit the number of buses on the upper levels of the transit center.

Laying down a coating of concrete mixed with latex to repair other cracks in the transit center’s concrete slabs would take about three months and cost an estimated $2.5 million.

While some of that work could be done at the same time as the shear and torsion correction, much of it would have to wait until that work is completed.

Failure to fix the cracks could cause concrete to fall onto areas used by pedestrians, the report warned.

Troup’s letter also requests that the county provide a fund to pay for the long-term maintenance that the facility will require.

“At a minimum, the county must agree to provide WMATA with an adequate fund to address the financial burden of substantial lifetime maintenance on a major transportation facility with the SSTC’s history,” Troup wrote. “Please be advised that WMATA will not accept any agreement that purports to place unreasonable or burdensome terms regarding WMATA access to or withdrawals from a long-term maintenance fund.”

Such a fund has been discussed by Metro since the project began, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Thursday.

The county intends to make the necessary repairs so that no maintenance fund will be necessary, he said.

The memorandum of understanding between the county and Metro doesn’t mention a fund, he said.

If a long-term maintenance fund is necessary, the two sides can enter into those discussions, Firestine told the council Thursday.

Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park questioned whether Metro raised questions about the project as it was developing. He said he had a hard time believing that the county would be entirely liable for any unexpected maintenance costs if the county can’t force the responsible parties to make the payments.

The transit center has been a prominent issue in the Democratic race for county executive between current Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg and former County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

On Thursday, Duncan said the project represented an absence of leadership by Leggett and a failure of its oversight responsibility of the council.

He also worried that despite Leggett’s repeated assurances that county taxpayers would not be liable for extra costs of the project, the county is making assumptions about what a court would decide in the case.

Lacefield said the county is confident it will be successful in having the companies who worked on the project held responsible for the increased costs, including any money for a potential maintenance fund.

“We’re confident on that score and always have been,” he said.