More On The Transit Center

As further details emerge about the dispute between Montgomery County and Metro, the more it becomes clear that Metro’s demands to the County are both ham-handed and almost comically absurd. The Post article today notes, among other things, that it’s not clear that different Metro officials actually know what the rest of the agency is doing.

According to documents made available this week by the county, Montgomery and Metro staff spent nearly two months targeting Aug. 23 as the opening date.

In a June 29 e-mail to Metro and county officials, Metro external relations director Lisa Schooley said that although tasks and timelines were subject to change, “the plan’s timeline is currently built assuming an opening date of August 23.”

And the June 8 agenda of a public-relations group working on the transit center rollout said: “As of this date, there are 76 days until the opening,” which would mean Aug. 23.

Requa said Wednesday that Aug. 23 was considered as a possible date because it coincided with a planned system-wide change of bus schedules. That would have made it easier, he said, to integrate new arrival and departure times for buses into the system.

But Requa said it was never a firm opening date. He said the WMATA board — which next meets in September — will have to vote that the center is ready to open before any bus service can begin there.

“It was premature,” Requa said. “People may have gotten ahead of each other.”

Until this week, the saga of the $140 million transit center, beset by design and construction flaws, appeared to be winding down. County officials reported that final repairs to cracked road surfaces and support beams were complete. On Monday, Metro buses rolled through the structure on practice runs.

But Firestine and Montgomery’s general services director, David Dise, the county’s lead official on the job, said that they began to get a different message in a July 10 phone conversation with Requa.

They said Requa seemed to be unaware of the work his operations and marketing staff had been doing around the Aug. 23 date.

Requa informed them, they said, that the transit agency would be rejecting the county’s “punchlist,” a final list of construction items that were completed.

On July 21, Requa sent the county a series of proposed changes to the original 2008 project agreement between the county and transit agency.

So between June and September, there are no meetings of the Metro board? And nobody thought of this while they were focused on an August 23 opening date? Brilliant. Wow.

The request for a $15 million escrow fund was not unreasonable, in my view. But asking the County to give up its 25% interest in development rights around the station was preposterous and not related to the problems with the transit center. And demanding the County provide a 100% tax abatement on any development for ten years brought the Metro effort into the realm of the criminal shakedown. A clumsy, ill-conceived plot worthy of a bad organized crime screenplay.

And it’s stupid. Metro has been underfunded for years, as a result of the inaction of the three states that, with the federal government, pay for Metro. There’s never been a dedicated Metro funding stream in Maryland. The agency was on the moral high ground to at least some degree in this matter. At least in MoCo, that ground was thrown away in what appears to be an 11th hour hare-brained scheme to shake down the county over the transit center, after months of cooperation toward a mutually-agreed opening date. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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