ROCKVILLE, Md. —
First it was cracked concrete, now it's a fiscal rift hindering the future of the Silver Spring Transit Center in Maryland. Montgomery County Officials and Metro leadership appear no closer to solving key problems plaguing a facility already years behind schedule and millions over budget.
The lack of consensus on the transit center’s remediation leaves unanswered the most important question of all: when will it open and who will operate it?
“The answer is I don’t know,” said Metro’s Rodrigo Bitar, Metro’s assistant general manager.
Money has emerged as the prickliest issue surrounding the transit center’s future, begging the question who should pay if the flawed transit hub needs significant fixing in the coming decades? The county says the facility may be ready to open for business by the end of the year, but Metro (WMATA) refuses to commit to operating it because of potentially big long-term maintenance bills.
During a two-hour hearing before the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday, David Dise, the county’s director of general services, Bitar, and Thomas Robinson, the transit authority’s deputy chief engineer, provided legislators with an update on repairs.
Workers under county supervision are repairing cracked concrete pour strips that were constructed without steel reinforcement. Metro claims the ongoing repair work will cause even more stress problems and is asking the county to reconsider its approach. The dispute over repairs did not stop both sides from reassuring council members that the Silver Spring Transit Center will pose no hazard to the public—if and when it opens.
“Structurally integrity is not an issue here,” Dise said.
In March, a contractor’s report, commissioned by Montgomery County, revealed significant structural problems. WMATA is trying to avoid getting stuck with a facility that requires excessive maintenance costs, but county officials contend the transit authority’s demands are becoming unreasonable. For instance, Bitar and Robinson said the county must conduct something known as a “slot stress test” on the transit center, an enormously expensive procedure, before Metro will accept the repairs.
“We continue to meet with WMATA to try to get some resolution as to their insistence upon this test. As it stands right now we don’t believe that test is necessary,” Dise said to reporters. “It is a sticking point to them and they consistently bring that up.”
“I believe what they are doing is setting up a situation where they can say, we are not responsible for maintaining this facility,” said Councilman Berliner. “This test they are seeking has only been done a number of times throughout the globe… and it wouldn’t give us any conclusive evidence.”
Dise and the two Metro officials seemed to talk past each other as the hearing dragged on, leaving some council members visibly exasperated.
“I wish I could put all of you in one room, lock you together and not let you out until this thing is done… basically force you to keep talking to each other until this is resolved,” said Councilman Elrich.
Dise said if repairs continue without major weather interruptions the Silver Spring Transit Center could be ready to open for business by the end of the year. Should Metro refuse to operate the facility, Berliner said the county might consider operating the facility itself.
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