Today I have a case study of a project that failed on multiple fronts.
This is a project that began in 2004 when Montgomery County in Maryland and the Washington DC Metropolitan Area Transit Authority purchased a plot of land in Silver Springs Maryland.
The project was envisioned as a way to revitalize Downtown Silver Springs and it would become a major Transit hub serving the area.
In 2008 the County (who was the lead agency in the project) hired Parson Brinckerhoff (now WSP) to design the hub. Foulger-Pratt Contracting was later hired as the General Contractor and Robert Balter was hired to perform field inspections.
The project was scheduled to be completed in 2010, but it immediately began experiencing delays when the soil at the site was found to be contaminated.
By June of 2010 construction began and immediately, sections of concrete began breaking off from finished drive surfaces.
The integrity of the concrete continued to be a concern through 2012, but the project team seemed unwilling or unable to resolve the problems.
The County then engaged KCE Structural Engineers to perform independent reviews of the design and construction records.
KCE found that the concrete tests performed by Balter did not match up with their own test results. KCE found that the strength of the concrete was significantly lower than the specifications had called for.
KCE’s report stated, “the as‐built…slab areas…do not have adequate shear capacity…to support the design loads”
The project cost which was initially estimated to be $35 Million now stood at $104 Million and there were another $7 Million in pending change orders.
All this before remediation of the concrete was done.
After KCE issued it’s report with recommendations on how to correct the issues, Montgomery County turned to Parsons and asked them to design the remediation, but Parsons refused and Montgomery hired KCE to design the work.
In 2013 the remediation work began and in August of 2015, nine (9) years after the site was purchased, seven (7) years after the work began and five (5) years behind schedule the project was completed.
So what went wrong?
Inspector General Report
A 62 page Report of Inspection from the Montgomery County Office of the Inspector General issued on April 15, 2014 reviewed the project and came up with 8 recommendations.
You can review the recommendations and the full report at the link above, but here are some of the most impactful statements from the report.
Fourteen of the 22 relevant construction project controls analyzed for adequacy of design,
implementation, and effectiveness were either weak or ineffective.
Testing of concrete found, “36% more water than was documented by the concrete provider and the inspector”
The condition of the in-situ concrete may have been affected by the failure to observe cold weather curing procedures, potentially contributing to the early shrinkage cracking observed in the structure.
records do not indicate that the test results from cylinders collected at the two locations were ever compared by the contractors.
The Contractor’s Quality Control plan provided for resolution of construction questions through a written process, but the contractor did not use this process to seek answers to questions it may have had about design requirements.
In response to problems that surfaced during the project, DGS contracted with PB to provide “construction management” services, but that individual was not independent of PB and the functions he was assigned did not allow him to serve as an effective construction manager for this project.
In August 2015, Montgomery County and the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority sued Parsons Brinckerhoff, Foulger-Pratt, and Robert Balter.
In the suit the County claimed $50M in damages from Parson Brinckerhoff and Foulger-Pratt and another $30M from Balter. The Transit Authority demanded an additional $25M from the three defendant.
In May 2017, Bethesda Magazine reported that the Contractors settled the case out of court and agreed to pay the County $25 Million plus an additional $18 Million in expenses.
None of the defendants admitted wrongdoing and the General Contractor Folger-Pratt actually received an addition $3Million as compensation for repairs they performed after the KCE Report.
This project failed because several members of the project team did not fulfill their responsibilities on the job, so you may be wondering what procurement lessons can be learned from a project like this?
While the events of this project were clearly the result of a series of failures, the most impactful finding of the Inspector General’s Report was that the County hired Parsons Brinckerhoff (at the time the Engineer of Record) to also act as the Construction Manager (which records use synonymously with the term “Project Manager”).
This appointment came late in the project and the role was granted limited powers and responsibilities.
Prior to this appointment, the project was managed by a committee of six staff members from the county.
According to a report from Alpha Corporation (who was hired to review the project controls), “the roles and responsibilities of the Construction Manager were shared among many entities, prompting WMATA to opine that it seems unclear who is responsible, allowing lapses and mistakes that potentially arise due to this troubling lack of clarity.”
At some point the County recognized that the Project Management Team (PMT), consisting of representatives of DGS, WMATA, MTA and FTA was not working and rather than going out to bid for an independent third party, they simply contracted Parson Brinckerhoff.
In the past, I’ve addressed why you need a Project Manager and the first thing I say about this is that the, “PM’s should not be affiliated with any of the other members of your project team“
The County failed to observe this critical detail and thought it could address conflicts of interest by limiting the PM’s duties. This made the PM ineffective and allowed performance failures from Parsons, Folger, and Balter to persist.
In hindsight, the Project Manager should have been the first appointment by the County followed by the Engineer. This would have established the PM’s authority on the project and would have made them intimately aware of the critical design aspects of the project.
There is no guarantee that the PM would have corrected all of the failures of this project, but with a well-qualified independent person in charge, the potential for systematic problems like this would have been reduced.
Today the Silver Springs Transit Center is known as the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center. It serves 360,000 trips per day and it is estimated that the Center has raised property values in the area by 7% to 9%.
In the end the project seems to have provided the revitalization it meant to provide, but the path it took to get here was fraught with frustration.
No matter how large or small every construction project requires the right level of project management and oversight. Overlooking this role or attempting to meet this with someone who is either unqualified or compromised is a recipe for failure.
What about you? Do you have PM’s on all of your projects? Are they independent PM’s or are they connected to other members of your project team? Tell me your stories.
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2 Comments Add yours
Luis, I worked on the project’s litigation on behalf of Montgomery County. I’d love to give you my perspective.
Hello…thanks for reaching out…I would be happy to hear your side of the story…send me your name and email address and I will reach out so you can write your account…I would be happy to publish your point of view…you can use the “Contact” page on my site to send me a private message.