Silver Line Clock Ticking Towards April 9

Wiehle-Reston East MetroThe contractor building Metro’s Silver Line has until the middle of next week to fix the construction problems or start paying big fines.

Judging by the number of issues found in last month’s inspection by Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, Dulles Transit Partners (DTP) will likely have to start paying the $25,000 a day.

DTP told MWAA in February it had reached “substantial completion” on construction of the $2.8 billion rail extension from East Falls Church to Reston’s Wiehle Avenue. In contracting-speak, that meant the project was ready to be turned over to Metro, which would conduct its own testing before opening the line.

But MWAA completed a 15-day review and found issues in 7 of 12 areas, ranging from leaks to problems with the automatic train control system. It was revealed at a MWAA Board meeting two weeks ago that speakers in all five stations have to be reinstalled, and there is a cable issue in the Tysons tunnel.

According to DTP’s contract, the work is not finished starting April 10, DTP faces a $25,000-a-day penalty until the work is done.  If the project is not completed 92 days after that April date, the contractor would have to pay roughly $2.3 million in fines, plus an additional $75,000 a day.

Ultimately, if the project is delayed more than six months from that April date, DTP could be required to pay more than $9 million total. Under the terms of the contract, the payments are capped at $60 million.

“Our goal is to have this wrapped up by April 9, before fines set in,” MWAA President and CEO Jack Potter said March 19.

Former Congressman Tom Davis, a MWAA board member, told WUSA9-TV that the most important thing is that the rail line is 100 percent safe and ready to go before opening.

“Hopefully, we can meet the April 9 deadline and it will be acceptable and we could move on,” Davis said. “But we want the public to know that when this transit system opens, it is going to be Grade A reader for business. It is going to be safe and it is going to work efficiently.”

But Davis also said if DTP has to pay fines, it could benefit the transportation system.

“If it is not ready, I think the airports authority can make some money on it,” Davis told WUSA. ”

Citizens advocacy group Reston 2020 says the fines should go to offset rising Dulles Toll Road rates, which may have to climb high to pay for Silver Line Phase 2, which is not fully funded.

“I believe that every last cent of those fines should go to stabilizing DTR tolls,” Maynard recently wrote in a letter to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D- VA 11th).  “Although the projected sums of the fines are not large compared with the multi-billion dollar price tag of Phase 1 of the line’s construction, we are at the point where every dollar counts.”

While a opening date for the Silver Line was never set, officials had hoped to finish testing last September for a possible December opening. But delays were announced last summer, then in November when the tracking system issues were discovered.

After the March setback, officials are no longer estimated when the turnover may be as DTP works to correct the problems.

When MWAA certifies that the issues are repaired, the project will be turned over to Metro, which has 90 days to complete its own testing.

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