The report found that treating the flawed panels with a silane coating is “not a perfect solution,” but will be sufficient as long as inspections are done periodically and the coating is reapplied every five to seven years rather than the 10 years originally proposed by the project’s contractor.
The report, however, did not give an estimate for what the additional cost would be.
If Metro officials are able to reach an agreement on how to address the panel fixes and other issues raised in the new IG report, it could allow Capital Rail Constructors to move closer to finishing its work on the $5.8 billion rail extension.
“We are evaluating the report with our contractors and are awaiting their input,” said Marcia McAllister, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which is overseeing construction of the project that will ultimately be turned over to Metro. “We will work with the contractors and [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Agency] to determine a path forward.”
On Thursday, a CRC representative said the company has already addressed several of the concerns raised in the report.
“The issues identified by the OIG are minor, mostly aesthetic issues, commonly found throughout the Metro system and easily remedied,” said Keith Couch, project director for CRC. “The project does not pose any safety concerns, nor does it pose any long-term maintenance issues outside of the ordinary for the Metro system. We have already completed repair of many of the issues that are identified. Any additional remedies required will be completed without schedule delays.”
That would be a rare bit of good news for a project that has been plagued by problems almost from the start and is now more than two years behind schedule.
The first phase of the rail line opened in July 2014. When complete, the second phase will extend Metro service to Washington Dulles International Airport and into Loudoun County. According to current projections, passenger service could begin next year.
Concerns about the panels and other issues are part of the reason Metro General Manger Paul J. Wiedefeld asked the transit agency’s inspector general, Geoffrey A. Cherrington, to conduct an independent review.
While this report focuses on the concrete panels used to build exterior walls at five rail stations, other reviews have focused on the MWAA’s management of the project and a rail yard also being built.
Questions about the quality of the panels first surfaced as part of a whistleblower complaint filed in 2016.
A former lab technician at Universal Concrete Products, which manufactured the panels, alleged he was fired after repeatedly raising concerns about the Pennsylvania-based company’s manufacturing process.
One person pleaded guilty to falsifying concrete quality tests. The company agreed to pay $1 million to settle a civil case, but admitted no wrongdoing.
Subsequent inspections of more than 1,500 panels installed at the stations determined that about 20 percent were flawed. In some instances, issues with how the panels were made could allow water to seep into them and freeze, potentially causing the panels to crack.
Project officials said the flaws did not present a safety issue, but could affect the project’s ability to meet the 100-year life span called for under the contract with the MWAA.
CRC proposed coating the panels with a solution that would prevent water from seeping into them. But a review last fall by the inspector general found that the coating did not provide sufficient coverage in about 20 percent of the panels tested, while another 10 percent were “on the border.”
As a result, Cherrington issued a management alert recommending that Metro not accept the contractor’s solution. However, if it chose to, the inspector general said the transit agency should demand additional guarantees and funding to support future issues that might surface.
In the report released Thursday, consultants hired by the inspector general’s office found that the silane solution selected by CRC would be sufficient if applied more frequently and as long as proper, periodic inspections were done. It also found that to get adequate coverage, the panels required four or five coats, rather than just two, as originally done.
According to the inspector general’s report, at least four entities conducted reviews of the concrete panels in question with widely differing results. A review by Universal Concrete Products, the company that manufactured the panels, found cracks in about 1.5 percent instances. A review by MWAA found cracks in a similar amount, about 1.6 percent of panels.
But a review by CRC found cracks in slightly more panels that it examined, roughly 3.4 percent. Consultants hired by the inspector general, however, found cracks in roughly 11.5 percent of panels.
The consultants said that all cracks equal or greater than 0.005 inches must be repaired before Metro accepts the project and that cracks less than 0.005 inches be thoroughly inspected after the agency takes control of the rail line.
In addition, consultants determined that the current amount being offered to Metro for maintenance of the panels is insufficient, in part because the coatings will have to be applied more frequently and in a greater amount than originally proposed.
Consultants also found that the solution applied to cracks found in panels at the rail yard being built by a separate contractor is acceptable but if it must be reapplied in the future, Metro should consider the costs associated with that work.
However, Michael Barker, a spokesman for Hensel Phelps, the contractor building the rail yard, said the coating that was applied actually requires fewer reapplications so there is unlikely to be an increase in costs to Metro.