WAMU-Rockville, Md. –
Montgomery County officials have no intention of letting D.C.'s Metro back out of the Silver Spring Transit Center -- even though the project is two years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.
County officials maintained in a hearing Wednesday that Metro is obligated to operate the structurally flawed Silver Spring Transit Center when the facility is finally repaired and open for business,
"Metro has been a partner in this from day one," said County Councilman Roger Berliner. "And now they can't simply say, sorry, we're done. No, they are not done. We are working on it. We are going to deliver a state-of-the-art facility. There will not be any basis for them to walk."
Last month, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority told county officials it wouldn't operate the transit center because construction flaws "would unnecessarily place an inordinate maintenance burden onto WMATA."
But the two sides are talking, according to David Dise, the county's director of general services.
"We have met with them and we believe have initiated discussions on their position," Dise said. "We believe this is a posture on their part. We believe there is still opportunity to negotiate their position."
In an April 30 letter, the Montgomery County Council notified WMATA it intends to hand the transit agency a "fully functional facility. The County continues to honor its obligations... and it expects WMATA to also honor its obligations."
During the forty-minute hearing on Wednesday, councilmembers grilled members of County Executive Ike Leggett's staff about negotiations with Metro. But Councilman Phil Andrews asked the question just about everybody would like an answer to.
"What is a realistic schedule for when it will be open?"
"I don't know," Dise said. "What I can say is that we should have a remediation plan in place in a month's time."
The fate of the transit center was thrown into turmoil after a county report in March found excessive cracking in concrete, missing cables, inadequate reinforcing steel, and concrete of insufficient strength and thickness.
The report provoked a response from the general contractor, Rockville-based Foulger-Pratt, which said it simply followed the county's own design plans when pouring concrete at the transit hub.
Metro's move to threaten to back out of the project added another layer of troubles, potentially leaving the county with a concrete edifice and no one with experience to operate it.
"The county has never run a transit center like this," Councilman Berliner said.
No Metro officials spoke at the hearing, and it did not even seem that any where present for it. But in a statement on Wednesday, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said the transit authority's position has not changed.
"We continue to have an open dialogue with the County, and we are prepared to listen to any remediation plan that they may develop. We are willing to operate Metrobus service out of the facility," Stessel said.