Nobody does high dudgeon quite like Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal. The Washington Post reported that his latest expression of outrage was in response to the Council having to approve another $21.2 million for the Silver Spring Transit Center:
General Services director David Dise, lead county official overseeing the project, offered no specific opening date but said repairs would be complete “by late May, certainly in the spring.”
Dise’s forecast drew a stiff response from Council President George Leventhal (D-At Large), who said some county taxpayers are so deeply frustrated with the delay that they advocate tearing down the building.
“Mr. Dise, a growing number of my constituents don’t believe anything you say anymore,” Leventhal said. “And I’m hearing from constituents that they think the promises are covering up a structurally-flawed building that ought to be torn down, that we ought to declare a loss and give up.”
County residents are rightly upset about the management of this project. The Transit Center was supposed to open four years ago and is massively more expensive than originally intended:
While pungent responses towards people testifying before the Council are nothing new for George Leventhal, his views on cost increases here contrast sharply with his stance regarding far greater increases on another transportation project.
Purple Line Double Standard
George is a lot more bothered by some cost increases than others. A huge fan of the Purple Line, he seems unconcerned about its rising cost and argues vociferously against anyone who opposes the project. And the costs have doubled to $2.4 billion (table below from the Washington Post), an increase that makes the spike in the Transit Center’s cost look piddling.
Indeed, the latest cost increase of $220 million was more than the entire price of the Silver Spring Transit Center. The consistent increases in costs suggest manipulation as costs should sometimes go down if estimates are randomly off. Moreover, costs have increased even though the promised quality of the project continues to decline. The Bethesda Terminus has been downgraded and the tunnel for the Capital Crescent Trail under Wisconsin Ave. shelved.
Yet George will brook no opposition to his pet project. The contrast is especially striking as Parsons Brinckerhoff has been involved heavily in the design of both the Transit Center and the Purple Line. Despite the Transit Center fiasco, MTA remains unwilling to disclose how Parsons calculated ridership figures for the proposed light rail project.
The Washington Post reports that the costs of the Silver Spring Transit Center are up by $21 million, or 17.5%. Still no opening date scheduled for this highly complex transportation hub, which was discovered to be unsafe after it was built.
Councilmembers continue to blame the County Executive who blames the project designer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and contractor, Foulger-Pratt. Nevertheless, Council President George Leventhal says councilmembers will “hold our noses and vote for” County Executive Leggett’s request.
Somehow, I don’t think it comforts anyone about the loss of another $21 million or the County’s management of the project that the Council President is holding his nose. While both the Executive and the Council promise that taxpayers won’t have to pay for the increase, it remains to be seen if all or a portion of the expense can be extracted from Parsons-Brinckerhoff and Foulger-Pratt.
Same Firm Involved in the Purple Line
Parsons-Brinckerhoff also estimated the ridership data for the Purple Line, a project George Leventhal supports. However, the firm still is hiding how it calculated ridership in response to public requests. (see here and here). In light of these past problems, this lack of transparency and the lack of demands for it by the State or the County is not encouraging.
Any unforeseen increases in costs for the Purple Line would not be born by the Parsons-Brinckerhoff or the federal government. Hopefully, the County will get the designer to pay for the cost increases in the Silver Spring Transit Center. Right now, however, County taxpayers are footing the bill with the money lost to other needed County infrastructure projects.
The costs of the Silver Spring Transit Center are set to rise by significant amounts again in 2014:
The additional expense could be considerable. Since early summer, contractors have drilled and excavated portions of the structure to install additional supporting steel. The “cap ties” are intended to strengthen the building. . . . Dise placed the cost of that work at about $1.6 million.
But more costly fixes are on the way. In coming weeks, workers will apply a two-inch layer of latex-modified concrete to roadways and other surfaces, a task that requires highly specialized equipment. The final major fix will be the addition of 255 strut beams to reinforce interior girders.
The new appropriation request is expected to include other costs, such as continued operation of the interim Silver Spring site for buses and fees for engineering consultant Allyn Kilsheimer, who was hired by the county to oversee the repairs.
This sort of fiasco does not exactly raise confidence in the ability of the County government to handle larger projects.