Inspection Report: Silver Spring Transit Center Is 'Unusable Facility'
A much-anticipated report on construction issues with the transit center found safety concerns that will delay the opening.
The Silver Spring Transit Center is an "unusable facility" due to structural issues that have rendered it unsafe, John Markovs, deputy attorney for Montgomery County, told the County Council on Tuesday in Rockville.
The transit center's opening will be delayed yet again and the county appears headed for litigation against the contractors building the project, county officials said.
Markovs and David Dise, director of the county's Department of General Services, briefed council members on an outside engineering firm's report on problems with the $112 million transit center, which was supposed to open this fall after years of delays.
County officials hired KCE Engineering to conduct a full inspection of the three-tiered structure after the discovery that some concrete slabs were unevenly poured, resulting in an unacceptable level of thickness or thinness in some places and a great amount of cracking.
The report, which is available online, found a slew of problems with the center, from the design to the construction to the initial inspections made by county contractors.
Not only was the concrete not poured correctly, KCE found, but the concrete was mixed with too much water in conditions that were too cold. The design of the center is "overstressed," Markovs said, making the cables that hold the pieces of the center together too tight, a condition he likened to the over-tightening of a drum.
Most worrisome is the absence of cabling to support the concrete on one level of the transit center, an omission that wouldn't allow the concrete to support the heavy loads for which it was designed.
"Regardless of those other deficiencies on the project, this defect results in an unusable facility, at least currently until fixed," Markovs said. "They [KCE] also see it as a significant safety hazard."
Without the report, "in all likelihood, we would not have known that these severe safety concerns existed until such time at some point in the future a tragedy could have occurred with a failure breaking or absolute failure of the pour strip areas," Dise said.
Problems with the girders, columns and support beams were also noted in the report, leading the engineering firm to conclude that, in addition to being unsafe, the transit center wouldn't likely last the 50 years county officials hoped.
Who is at fault?
The blame was initially aimed at Foulger-Pratt, the center's general contractor. Foulger-Pratt blamed the county for delays. Now, the the blame is said to lie with the three firms that worked on the transit center—the design firm, the contractor and the inspector.
"KCE has made comment that all three firms, including Balter, failed to perform fully the requirements they were under contract with the county," Dise said.
The three firms are Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc., which designed the center, Foulger-Pratt and its subcontractors, which built the center, and The Robert B. Balter Company, Inc., a company the county pays to inspect construction projects because the county does not have inspectors on staff, Dise said.
"The bottom line that we see in the report is that they have concluded that the problems with the Transit Center have been caused, in varying degrees, by errors and ommissions [by all three firms]," Markovs said.
"There is some good news in the report."
Council members seemed relieved Tuesday to hear that the center could be fixed. KCE recommended a concrete overlay to the areas where the concrete strength was not up to code and enlargement of some of the columns to increase fire resistance and durability, among other recommendations.
"There is some good news in the report," County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said in a statement Tuesday.
"There are fixes that will make the SSTC safe and functional," Leggett said. "However, these fixes will take time. No one wants the SSTC to open more than I do, but not at the expense of public safety or burdens to county taxpayers from future unanticipated costs."
Dise echoed the sentiment, telling council members that he "cannot commit as to how long [the fixes] will take at this time—it’s far too complex."
Dise said the contractors are obligated to continue work on the building. The county will pursue litigation against the contractors "in due course," he said.
Bryant Foulger, principal at Foulger-Pratt, released the following statement Tuesday:
Like everyone else, we had to wait for the report to be posted on the county’s website, so we are learning about it now for the first time. As you have seen, it is a highly technical report so it will take some time for us to review its content.
The way in which this report was developed, however, is indicative of the county’s conduct throughout this entire process. Everyone in this community – including us – has been waiting for more than a year for the county to act. During that time, we made numerous requests for meetings between our engineers and the county's engineers in order to sit down, as professionals, address any concerns, and move forward for the benefit of the community.
The county consistently refused to allow any professional dialogue. Instead, taxpayers were forced to pay for a $2 million report conducted without any input from us or our engineers. If only the county had been willing to work cooperatively, the Transit Center would have been open by now for the benefit of everyone in Montgomery County.