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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Silver Line "Substantially Complete" Squeeze Play

RestonNow and WAMU radio have articles published late April 8th noting that the Bechtel, the lead Phase 1 Silver Line contractor, is about to apply again for "substantial completion" of the first phase of the Silver Line.  In fact, the WAMU report includes an excerpt from Bechtel's press release saying it "plans to submit the project to MWAA for substantial completion designation soon, possibly as early as tomorrow (April 9)."  MWAA's Board member and Dulles Corridor Committee Chairman Tom Davis says it could be "substantially complete" by the next MWAA Board meeting (April 16) and Rep. Gerry Connolly made the same kind of "any moment now"  remarks at the RA Annual Meeting last evening. 

Here's the problem:  The line is not "substantially complete" until the MWAA project manager says that the contractor's work meets contractual standards, and that will require a review that could take up to two weeks after Bechtel applies for it.

"Substantially complete" is not when the contractor says the work is done--as it did in late February and clearly failed in the project manager's review.

The work is also not "substantially complete" when, for pointless political reasons, the MWAA Board of Directors  WANTS it to be complete before its next meeting on April 16.

The problem now for the MWAA Silver Line Project Management team is that it is being squeezed on both sides--the contractor who wants to avoid fines that begin April 9 and MWAA's Board which wants to avoid the perception MWAA has managed this project poorly and so has set an artificial April 16 deadline to declare its satisfactory completion. This does not bode well for a true satisfaction of all the terms of the construction contract before MWAA declares the project "substantially complete."

And when MWAA's project team makes that determination, it becomes WMATA's problem.

In these circumstances, the squeeze play on the MWAA project management team will put more pressure on WMATA to make sure the public can be assured of a safe and reliable Silver Line before it goes into operation. In the current circumstances, it makes little sense for WMATA to rush to that readiness judgment in less than the 90 days it has to reach a decision.

We've waited decades for the Silver Line. We can wait another few weeks if necessary to make sure we have a Metrorail line that is safe and efficient--in short, done right.

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