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Silver Spring project still faces major hurdles

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Published on: Thursday, March 28, 2013

By Holden Wilen

SILVER SPRING - As a result of the findings in the March 19 report on the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center, it is unclear whether or not the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) will still take control of the facility from Montgomery County when repairs are completed.

The report, compiled by KCE Structural Engineers, implicates the designer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, the contractor, Foulger-Pratt, and the inspector, The Robert B. Balter Company. According to the March 19 report, the design for the $112 million transit center did not meet the requirements of the International Building Code or the criteria of the WMATA manual of design criteria.

“We will ensure our interests are protected by whatever means possible and appropriate,” said Dan Stessel, WMATA spokesman. “WMATA will not accept a project with known issues regarding safety, maintainability and suitability for use, or inherent defects.”

Deputy County Attorney John Markovs said WMATA approved of the design created by Parsons Brinckerhoff and he wants to know why the agency approved a design which did not meet its requirements. However, Stessel said WMATA considers all of the problems with the structure as construction flaws.

“In our view, this is primarily a construction issue,” Stessel said. “Our role is to accept the facility once it is completed. It has to be safe and to our design specifications.”

The project is not WMATA’s to manage, Stessel said, and the agency is not involved in the day-to-day activity at the site. If the transit center were deemed safe after repairs, Stessel said WMATA would likely take control, but could ask for additional assurances such as a maintenance agreement or indemnification would need to be put in place.

The failure to follow codes and standards resulted in widespread cracking in the slabs, beams and girders on the second and third floors of the building, according to the report. The decks and columns in the structure do not meet the minimum durability requirement of a 50-year service life, and the columns do not have the required fire rating.

According to the report, the concrete used in the structure has an average strength of 6,970 pounds per square inch, but it was supposed to 8,000 pounds per square inch. The poor strength and quality of the concrete used in constructing the transit center and the construction deficiencies are Foulger-Pratt’s responsibility, Markovs said. He went on to say Foulger-Pratt failed to build what was already a flawed design correctly.

There is no timetable for completing the repairs yet, and though there is no estimated cost, Markovs said the county wants the project completed sooner rather than later.

Nothing can be done until Parsons Brinckerhoff decides whether or not to continue to act as the engineer of record for the project and create the drawings for the remediation plan, but Markovs said he expects a decision within several weeks.

The county’s position is to give Parsons Brinckerhoff, Foulger-Pratt and Balter Company a chance to fix the problems and have them cover the repair costs, Markovs said, and will not be looking for any refunds.

“The county’s intent is to hold (the contractors) to their contractual obligations which was to give us, with respect to Parsons Brinckerhoff fulfilling its contractual obligations, to properly design in a professional manner the transit center,” Markovs said. “Any damages arising from that we are going to look to Parsons Brinckerhoff to pay for.

“The same thing for Folger-Pratt; there are damages associated with their failure to construct it in industry standards and meet all the qualifications and codes for the building. We’re going to look to them to pay for that also. To the extent that Balter Company owes any responsibility for how they handled their testing and whatever impact that had on the project we may be looking at Balter also.”

If Parsons Brinckerhoff does not continue with the project, Markovs said the next logical step would be for KCE Structural Engineers to become the new engineer or record, but the county is optimistic the firm will “do the right thing.”

Judith Cooper, a spokesperson for Parsons Brinckerhoff, said the firm intends to be the engineer of record in the future but is still reviewing the report.

Although WMATA is an observer at this point in the process, Stessel said, engineers for the agency are reviewing the report, and WMATA retains the right to approve of any remediation action.

“The goal here is for all parties to work cooperatively to get this fixed,” Stessel said.

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