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Subway Contract Award Delayed Pending Report : Transportation: MTA board will postpone action on building Vermont-Beverly station until tunnels' soundness is verified by an independent panel.


Concerned about reports of construction defects in the new Los Angeles subway, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority unanimously voted Wednesday to delay the awarding of a $45-million contract until the structural soundness of the tunnels can be verified.

The MTA board decided to postpone the award to the joint venture of Tutor-Saliba-Perini for construction of a subway station until the 13-member board has received a report from an independent panel of experts.

Transit officials announced plans to appoint the panel after a recent Times report that numerous areas of the subway tunnel were thinner than originally designed.

Ronald N. Tutor, president of Tutor-Saliba Corp., told the board Wednesday that his company did high-quality work on the Red Line and other projects. He said he welcomed the report from the independent panel.

"You get a quality product," he said. "The truth will prevail."

Although the construction contract for the Vermont-Beverly Station was postponed, the board authorized the joint venture to proceed with the demolition, which will take an estimated two months and cost about $650,000.

"There's a lot of ambivalence about the construction and the safety and the cost overruns," said City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, an alternate member of the MTA board. "It reflects the board's increasing frustration with what seems to be an out-of-control construction management program."

Nick Patsaouras, also an MTA alternate board member, said, "Unless the findings and facts come in (demonstrating structural soundness), we cannot proceed any more with this contract."

MTA chief Franklin White said he expects to announce within the next several days a panel of experts, including ones specializing in concrete, tunnel construction methods, and soils and foundations. That panel will examine 10,000 feet of subway tunnel, from Union Station to Pershing Square, and report to White and to MTA chairman Richard Alatorre within the next 10 weeks, White said.

"We will be pressing them to expedite their efforts," he said.

Alatorre, a Los Angeles city councilman, said the team would have "no association at all" with the MTA or its predecessor agencies. "There isn't (going to be) that potential conflict of these individuals," he said.

Transit officials and Tutor have said they believe the tunnels are safe and structurally sound. As a precaution, they said, they had reinforced tunnel walls with steel plating in three areas before the subway opened.

Gordon Linton, administrator of the Department of Transportation, wrote in a letter to White released Wednesday that federal officials would monitor the independent study. Federal funds paid for about half of the Red Line.

Linton asked that White submit a review plan that federal officials in the San Francisco office would examine and discuss with the MTA.

Linton wrote that he supported having an independent panel "to undertake a complete review and evaluation, including testing, as necessary and appropriate, of the tunnel wall thickness and strength of the approximately 10,000 feet of subway tunnel from Union Station to Pershing Square." This section of tunnel was built by Tutor-Saliba and a partner, S.J. Groves.

Linton advised White that the panel should "conduct appropriate testing" of sections of the Red Line which were built by other contractors "to ascertain the structural integrity."

Amid growing concern about the cost of construction projects, the MTA board unanimously voted to ask White to audit work orders and evaluate the spending authority of mid-level managers. A Times report this week detailed how mid-level project managers can authorize millions of dollars in work orders on rail projects.

"This limits the authority of mid-level managers," said Patsaouras, who proposed the motion.

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