Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More problems for beleaguered Silver Line as head of long-delayed rail project resigns, WaPo, April 16, 2014


Just months before Metro’s new Silver Line is scheduled to open, the agency building the rail line received more troubling news Wednesday about the project, which already is late and over budget.
The head of the project is resigning, and the agency’s board acknowledged that attempts to fix a key component of the new line have failed. Officials said they will use a work-around until a nearly $2 million permanent fix can be completed.
    Wednesday’s news comes as the $5.6 billion extension to the Metro system already is seven months late and $150 million over its targeted cost. As of Wednesday, officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority still could not say when the project will be complete.
    The resignation of Pat Nowakowski, executive director of the rail project, underscores concerns among those already worried about the MWAA’s management of the project.
    Terry Maynard, a member of the Reston 2020 Committee, a neighborhood group that has been instrumental in pushing the project, said Nowakowski’s resignation exacerbates problems tied to the construction of the rail extension including the installation of radios that don’t meet code, leaky roofs at rail stations and technical problems with equipment and other issues.
    “There have been too many surprises,” Maynard said. He said many parts of the project, such as the completion of power stations — an earlier issue in building the line — “weren’t closely inspected” when they were done. These things “should have been ironed out along the way.” . . .
    I would like to take a moment to address my reported comments in this article, which are accurate but totally overlook their context.

    First, and most important, in the ten-minute or so phone interview I had with Dana Hedgpeth last evening, I said more than once (maybe 3-4 times) that I was sorry to see Pat Nowakowski leave as the Silver Line project manager.  First, I said, Phase 1 of the line will not be complete and it would be better if he saw the project through to its completion.  Second, I said his experience would provide important continuity for Phase 2 and a better opportunity to avoid the mistakes made in Phase 1.

    What I didn't say, but probably should have, is that I don't blame Nowakowski for leaving, especially in the recent efforts to politicize the Phase 1 completion process.  Threats of fines and lawsuits, demands that "substantial completion" be declared by yesterday's MWAA Board meeting, and so on, most of them coming from MWAA Board member and Dulles Corridor Committee Chairman Tom Davis, do nothing to complete the project in a way that provides any assurance to the public that the line will be safe and reliable when it is completed.  The last thing a project of this magnitude needs is knee-jerk political reaction to a difficult situation.  Davis' remarks, quoted widely in the press, were very non-constructive.

    Second, Ms. Hedgpeth asked me several times what I thought was wrong with the way MWAA has handled the management of this project, a clearly one-sided question.  My reply, which included the quotes above, always began with "It's very difficult to judge what went wrong with the project management from the outside..."  My general comment about what may have gone wrong was that (as the quotes suggest) that it did not appear that MWAA had followed up in making sure that elements of the project (such as the leaky roofs, etc) were done right as they were allegedly completed. 

    What I didn't say and probably should have is that neither apparently did Bechtel, the lead contractor, whose motivation may have been a bid to cut construction costs.  That put all the more pressure on MWAA to make sure each part of the project was checked thoroughly when it was completed.  Apparently, they trusted Bechtel to do its job.  An old saw says, "Trust, but verify."

    I'll be more careful next time--and should have been yesterday.  

    For the rest of the WaPo article, click here.


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