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Peter’s Take: Super Stop Investigation

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotAs the County slow walks the “independent, third-party review” of the infamous $1 million Super Stop, recently released documents under Virginia FOIA reveal an even bigger fiasco than first reported.

We now know that in 2003, the County contracted with the consulting firm Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum (HOK) for Super Stop design work then estimated to cost about $470,000. For that kind of money, the County staff was entitled to go back and forth with HOK on minutiae, but on basics like protection from the rain nobody seemed to be paying attention. The focus on minute details and the contractor’s responsibility for “construction administration” refute the County Board’s attempt to shift blame to WMATA.

Now, the County Board has promised an independent, third-party review of what happened. That is exactly what we need. But, incredibly, a May 2013 internal County staff memorandum proposes that the same consulting firm (HOK) that created the Super Stop design be rehired to do this review.

Here is the County staff’s logic: “The intent of this work is to only have design modifications made, whereas if a different design firm were used, the concern is that an entire re-design would take place which would increase the project costs and schedule.”

County staff wants to hire (or rather re-hire) the fox to guard the henhouse. Hopefully, it’s not too late for someone to overrule this staff recommendation and get the independent review we were promised.

The continuing $1 million Super Stop fiasco is yet another red flag for the $310 million Columbia Pike streetcar proposal. The Federal Transit Administration concluded that the County Board underestimated this proposal’s cost by $60 million, and therefore Arlington and Fairfax counties were not entitled to the $75 million grant for which they had applied under the federal “Small Starts” program. The contractor who developed the cost estimate that was off by $60 million was AECOM, and Arlington paid them millions of dollars for that work.

The County has promised, but not yet delivered, a truly-independent review of a one million dollar Super Stop.
There are at least 310 times more reasons for the County to make and deliver on the same promise regarding the proposed streetcar.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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