Back in 2000, former Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan presided over the groundbreaking of the Silver Spring Transit Center, which was originally supposed to cost $35 million and open in 2003. One decade and $80 million later, it is a structurally unsound hunk of unusable concrete that will require millions either to fix or to tear down. Its grand opening has been delayed indefinitely as the county and its contractors blame each other for the colossal mess.
Envisioned as a hub for Metro and MARC trains, buses and taxis, and the capstone to the revitalization of Silver Spring, the transit center fell victim to political infighting, bureaucratic bungling and a complete lack of oversight. It is not a pretty sight.
In 2011, seven years after construction was supposed to have been completed, a large number of worrisome cracks appeared in the second-floor concrete bus deck. An initial investigation revealed that only 37 percent of the concrete installed by Rockville-based Foulger-Pratt and its subcontractors met basic construction standards.
County officials hired KCE Engineering Services to conduct further studies on the concrete decking. KCE's report, issued earlier this week, documents even worse problems beneath the cracked cement: missing cables, inadequate steel reinforcements, and concrete decking that deviated either above or below the 10-inch specifications, rendering the entire three-story structure a public safety hazard.
Recriminations and counterclaims between the county and the contractors have already begun. But Montgomery County is ultimately responsible for this disaster.
KCE reports that the independent inspectors hired by the county "did not raise sufficient concern" about the cracks, but their failure started well before Foulger-Pratt absurdly proposed hiding the cracks under a waterproof coating. How could inspectors have failed to notice missing rebar? How could they have signed off on a 7-inch slab of concrete when the project called for 10 inches? Why did they approve concrete columns that don't even conform to Montgomery's own fire codes?
There is no plausible honest explanation for such egregious errors. The Department of General Services employees who hired these inspectors had primary oversight responsibility, and it appears they provided no oversight at all as they allowed the project's price tag to triple with no end in sight.
It is now the County Council's unenviable task to investigate, identify and punish all involved in this monumental waste.