- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2000

The companies suing Metro over a rejected contract bid have based their case on flawed work estimates, a lawyer for the transit agency argued in U.S. District Court yesterday.

Donald A. Laffert, assistant general counsel for Metro, defended studies that were done three years ago by Parsons-Brinkerhoff in determining the amount of corrosion that had occurred on vital hardware in some of Metro's tunnels.

Those studies, conducted in 1997 and 1998, stated that 7,774 bolts and 793 grout plugs inside Metro tunnels needed to be replaced because of extensive corrosion.

Metro, citing the study, awarded a $5.9 million contract to Aulson Co. Inc., a Massachusetts-based general contracting firm that came in with the lowest overall bid for repairs.

Under Aulson's bid, Metro would pay $200 to replace each grout plug and $50 per bolt.

The two companies suing Metro EMS Inc. and Megaco Inc. joined forces to put in a competing bid for the work. In their bid, the companies offered significant savings to Metro on replacing the grout plugs $25 each and the corroded bolts $15 apiece.

But EMS and Megaco had overestimated the number of corroded bolts and grout plugs that needed to replaced, Mr. Laffert said, and the total bid from the companies was $700,000 more than Metro expected to pay.

U.S. District Court Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer is expected to rule on whether Aulson should retain the contract or have Metro begin the bidding process again.

EMS and Megaco attorney Whitney Adams said Lloyd Smith, a corrosion specialist who used to work for the Federal Highway Administration, estimated 29,200 bolts and 15,800 grout plugs needed replacement, a figure Mr. Laffert disputes.

Ms. Adams told Judge Oberdorfer the "outdated" figures Metro used to award the contract to Aulson could cost the agency almost $4 million more in repairing the tunnel sections.

"[If] you think in quantities, the costs become astronomical," Ms. Adams said.

She cited media reports of Metro's deteriorating tunnels and an October 1997 Metro staff summary sheet that, she said, illustrate the transit agency's concern over the subway's tunnel corrosion.

"If Metro really had underestimated the corrosion in their tunnels … then this is a safety concern," Ms. Adams said.

Rebutting Ms. Adams' claims about safety, Mr. Laffert said the staff summary sheet is "merely a funding document" and should not be construed as evidence that Metro's tunnels are in bad shape.

Ms. Adams said after the hearing that she doesn't understand why Metro did not do the work called for in the Parsons-Brinkerhoff study.

"They showed in 1997 that they had concern and that the corrosion was visible to the eye," Ms. Adams said.

After the hearing, Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann defended the transit agency's efforts to maintain the system's aging tunnels.

"Metro has an ongoing and aggressive program of maintaining our tunnels," Mr. Feldmann said. "Our tunnels are inspected on an ongoing and regular basis."

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