First, it was a low bid. Then, it was low-quality work done by an unscrupulous precast wall contractor. Now, this contractor is paying a settlement when instead it should be paying to fix its faulty concrete.
The low-bid general contractor, Capital Rail Constructors, hired a precast concrete firm whose quality control supervisor admitted in court that he falsified concrete test results for concrete that should have never been delivered let alone installed. It is outrageous that members of Virginia's Republican Party, who advocated for low-bid procurement on Phase 2 of the Metro’s Silver Line, are not taking blame for this mess of a project. It is also outrageous that the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority accepted work on a brand-new project that does not meet the design build project requirements. The proposed fix for its concrete is a spray solution every 10 years for the next 100 years. Does anyone really believe that this is going to happen and that taxpayers are not going to foot the bill for this maintenance?
As a skilled laborer, I worked in concrete construction for 34 years. I know that the concrete that is installed right now on this project will need costly maintenance. Nearly 1,600 concrete panels and over 400 concrete rail ties need to be replaced completely if Virginia residents are going to see concrete lasting the100 years that they were promised.
A settlement does nothing to solve these problems. It is toll road drivers, metro riders, and Virginia taxpayers in Loudoun and Fairfax counties who will pay for repairs over the years unless the public demands new concrete now. Once construction is complete and the warranty period ends, who will be left to sue when more problems unravel? Just as a sealant spray is a cheap alternative to new concrete, awarding projects to the lowest bidder is a cheap procurement method. Yet, this is what politicians signed up for when they declared war on labor agreements.
Despite the Silver Line Phase I construction running smoothly under a project labor agreement, Virginia Republicans, including former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock and former Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, threatened to deny millions of dollars for Phase 2 if it included a PLA. Rep. Comstock went so far as to introduce and pass anti-PLA legislation in the 2012 legislative session. After the MWAA Board voted to remove the labor agreement from the project, she said she saved the Commonwealth $400 million, a claim that fact-checkers found to be a three-Pinocchio falsehood.
In reality, Virginia residents like myself will pay more for a project that is already over-budget and two years behind schedule. When projects are awarded to the lowest bidder, as we are seeing on Phase 2, don't expect to see superior work. Their bids are low because they plan to use unskilled workers, and subcontractors who cut corners. This leaves Virginia residents paying for costs not included in the initial bid. Virginia deserves better.
David Allison is Business Manager of the Baltimore-Washington Laborers' District Council, representing more than 7,000 workers in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.