- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Metro officials underestimated the seriousness of corrosion in the subway tunnels, and as a result could end up paying millions more for repairs, according to documents filed as part of a lawsuit against the transit agency.

Two Virginia companies EMS and Megaco filed suit after losing a bid for the contract to replace vital hardware damaged by water seepage and humidity.

They bid to do the work for $6.89 million, saying they could replace all necessary grout plugs for $25 apiece and bolts for $15 apiece, using replacement estimates compiled by a former Federal Highway Administration official.

Metro awarded the contract over the summer to Massachusetts-based Aulson for $5.9 million, which asks for $200 per grout plug and $50 per bolt, based on much lower estimates compiled three years earlier by a Metro consultant.

A hearing in U.S. District Court today will determine whether Aulson was rightfully awarded the contract, or whether Metro will have to begin the bidding process all over again. Judge Lewis Oberdorfer is expected to make a decision within a month.

"Aulson was the low bidder based upon what they bid, which was $5.9 million, but that's assuming you're only going to fix [the tunnels] and won't exceed the quantities," said Whitney Adams, attorney for EMS and Megaco. "It was a quantity fixed-price kind of work."

If the number of plugs and bolts that need to be replaced goes up, the cost of the project would also increase, she said.

Ms. Adams said Metro estimated in 1997 and 1998 that it would need 7,774 bolts and 793 grouts replaced.

She said that based on a former Federal Highway Administration official's estimate, however, the numbers are closer to 29,200 bolts and 15,800 grout plugs. That would cost taxpayers "an additional $4 million" when other work on the project, such as caulking, is included.

Donald A. Laffert, assistant general counsel for Metro, said the transit agency will not get stuck with escalating costs because its contract with Aulson requires renegotiation if the costs exceed by 15 percent of what was originally agreed upon.

"Obviously, we don't think the prices are going to go up," he said. "We can always get out of our contracts. I won't say there may need to be an increase or a decrease."

Mr. Laffert defended the decision to award the contract to Aulson, saying EMS and Megaco lacked familiarity with the subway system.

"They have very limited knowledge of our tunnels," Mr. Laffert said, adding the company that provided estimates for the numbers of bolts and plugs to be replaced Parsons-Brinkerhoff has been a Metro consultant for more than 15 years. He said he has no reason to doubt its claims.

"They are correct because they went and did this survey," Mr. Laffert said.

But the FHA official, Lloyd Smith, a specialist in chemical corrosion, said in a declaration for EMS and Megaco that there was a "serious underestimating" in both the corrosive effects of water seepage on the hardware.

Nearly three years ago, Metro officials themselves told the agency's board of the serious threat corrosion posed to the safety of its tunnels.

Among the tunnels needing the most work are those stretching between Federal Center and L'Enfant Plaza and between Federal Center and Capitol South stations on the Blue Line, according to Parsons-Brinkeroff.

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