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Chairman's Message

Silver Spring’s Transit Center Fiasco and Delegate Aruna Miller

Posted: August 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

markUncaphernewMontgomery County’s Silver Spring Transit Center was once supposed to open in 2009 and cost $30 million. It was expected to be a hub for Metro, MARC trains and buses serving nearly 100,000 people a day.

Over two decades after the county first bought the land and more than six years after construction began, the Silver Spring Transit Center remains empty and unused behind a chain-link fence.

Costs have ballooned to over $120 million, and the Center remains closed because of safety concerns due to structural and design problems. The need for greater steel support in the roadway has caused the project to be delayed.

Metro was originally going to take over the facility from Montgomery County. However in April it told the county they will not operate the center at all, regardless of repairs being made. Metro said the deficiencies in the building “are of the magnitude and severity, that even if repaired, would unnecessarily place an inordinate maintenance burden onto WMATA should the facility be accepted.” Even if the building is fixed and while Metro may run buses in it, Metro wants its name off of the building.

For months now, much sound and fury has been expended by county officials to avoid addressing the source of the problem head-on.

For example, just this week by the County Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight issued a report comparing the county’s design and construction policies against those in 13 other jurisdictions. The Council’s office decided amillerthat the county policies are among the best practices in the industry. This may be interesting in an academic way. However, not only did the report not investigate if those practices are being implemented properly, it did not directly address the Silver Spring fiasco.

Since the problems first surfaced over the past three years ago, the county has tried mightily to evade any attention being paid to its own flawed, complex design for the Center. County officials have tried to shift blame toward the builders and private inspectors.

Earlier this year the County Council convened a hearing to consider the issue, after learning about key developments in the Washington Post and being blindsided by the Leggett administration. They asked County Executive Leggett meet with the Council in person for explanations. The County Executive declined, citing a conflicting photo opportunity with Governor O’Malley. And apparently neither the Council nor Leggett were unable to come up with an alternative time to publicly meet.

When county officials have testified, according some accounts, they have misrepresented the findings from their own follow-up engineering study. County officials claimed at a council hearing that they no idea that the concrete did not have additional support, despite their own study which noted that the project’s original design was flawed because it failed to require the necessary extra support, referred to as “post-tensioning in the pour strips.”

The Washington Post has shed more light on the underlying problem, reporting specifically on the initial project requirements and design: “That complexity set off alarms even before a contractor was selected to build the center. The design, by the global engineering giant Parsons Brinckerhoff, and the county’s specifications were so elaborate – the document distributed to prospective builders was more than 2,200 pages long – that some firms were leery of bidding for the work.”

“They acted like they were building the Taj Mahal,” said a local construction executive who asked not to be named to avoid jeopardizing his ties to the county. “[1] Only two companies, Foulger-Pratt and Clark Construction, actually bid on the project.

So who is responsible for the Silver Spring Transit Center’s flawed design, especially the failure to require adequate reinforcement? Certainly the design firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff, should be held accountable.

But questions should also be directed within the county government and the Department of Transportation (DOT). More specifically, within DOT is the Division of Transportation Engineering, Planning & Design. Within that office is the “Section for Facility Planning.”

Del. Miller
Voters seeking answers need not search out a faceless bureaucrat. The “Facilities Planning Manager” heading up the Section is none other than District 15 House of Delegates Democratic Member Aruna Miller. She has been working as an engineer on the county’s transportation planning staff since 1990. Even after being elected, she has remained on the county staff, responsible for “transportation facilities planning.”[2]

Voters in District 15 can do the entire county a public service by asking some pointed questions of Del. Miller about the Silver Spring Transit Center.

Mark Uncapher
Montgomery County Republican Chairman