FOIA requests and interviews at the right time,
someone unwilling to look the other way,
Steve T. Mackey, has lead to evidence of
shortcuts on public safety and plain old
incompetence in a national transportation
plan of consequence, WMATA's proposed
The eye-opening Lisa Rein article on train
safety referenced below in the WaPo editorial
that ran on Thanksgiving, complete with
diagrams and photos, is at:
Some excellent photos that pinpoint the exact
area under discussion -which is two Metro
stations past where I used to live, and
near a very popular Applebee's in McLean
that my friends and I used to frequent-
And since it wasn't in the papers down here,
I can tell you that they had a crash there on
Sunday with millions of dollars worth of
And don't overlook the obvious -this is
precisely what a first-class editorial looks like.
Compare and contrast with the shallow LCD
silliness that passes for big-thinking editorials
in South Florida's newspapers, esp. the ones
dealing with immigration policy. Latin America
politics, public corruption or anything having
to do with real estate.
'You don't build bridges without testing.'
Thursday, November 26, 2009
THE MANAGEMENT and contractors involved in building one of the largest public infrastructure projects in the nation -- the $5.2 billion extension of Metro to Dulles International Airport and beyond -- suddenly stand accused of slipshod procedures and casual neglect of critical safety issues.
It's a damning indictment. The senior federal official with direct responsibility for transit has charged the project manager, Washington's airports authority, with submitting an "unresponsive and inadequate" plan to test crucial support structures for a planned bridge that would carry Metro trains over Interstate 66. Other officials with intimate knowledge of the project to build Metro's Silver Line are alarmed that safety tests that should have been obvious and obligatory were neglected or resisted by the contractors, a partnership between civil engineering giants Bechtel and URS. A whistleblower who formerly oversaw construction of the bridge has quit the project. And crucial documents appear to be missing.
These and other serious matters, raised in a report Sunday by The Post's Lisa Rein, have cast a shadow over the 23-mile Silver Line project. They will continue to darken perceptions of it unless they are addressed thoroughly, quickly and with an unstinting focus on safety. To its credit, the airports authority now appears to be doing just that, although it has not laid out its plans in detail.
The root of these concerns is the strength and integrity of a number of existing support structures -- concrete-encased steel pilings driven deep into the ground and each designed to withstand 70 tons -- that are to be used as foundations for the bridge. These foundations, built in 1977 in anticipation of Metro's eventual extension, were all but forgotten until workers came across them two years ago. Project engineers then decided to save money and time by using 11 of them as footings atop which pillars would be built to support the bridge.
It seems plain that the money saved by not having to build these foundations from scratch should be used to test the load-bearing capacity of all the underground pilings -- especially given their age and the apparent disappearance of original construction records. That sort of testing is exactly what Steve T. Mackey, the project's former chief bridge manager, insisted on. Incredibly, Mr. Mackey was overruled by a supervisor, and his attempts to alert the Federal Transit Administration about his concerns were ignored (outrageously) for more than six months; he resigned last year. "I'm old enough to know you don't build bridges without testing," he said.
There are some troubling questions here. One is whether the airports authority, which owns the project and the problem -- and is therefore responsible for a solution -- has the expertise, experience and muscle to manage this project. The authority did little to inspire confidence when, pressed to submit a testing plan by the feds, it merely wrote a cover letter for one submitted by the contractor, known as Dulles Transit Partners. Now the authority says all 11 structures will be tested.
Another question is why Dulles Transit Partners resisted testing every one of the foundations, as appears to have been the case. Was it because of cost, or the risk of disruption to service on the Orange Line or I-66, or because some forms of testing can actually harm the structures?
We make no presumption about the condition of the 11 existing foundations; as far as we know, and based on the limited tests that have been performed, there is no evidence to suggest they are unsafe. We understand that testing all the foundations could temporarily disrupt Orange Line service or require briefly closing part of I-66. It's also possible that tests could trigger cost overruns. What's critical is that the airports authority, as the project manager and owner, comes up with an informed, independent and transparent plan based on the most exacting safety and engineering standards. Nothing short of that will restore the public's confidence in Metro's most ambitious expansion plan to date.
Reader comments at:There are a lot of well-educated professionals in
Northern Virginia who believe a tunnel would be
better and cheaper (and faster) for the Tyson's
Corner/Route 7 area than an elevated line,
including many of my friends who have offices
Their slogan is 'It's not over until it's under."