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MTA Shake-Up Proposal Is of Limited Scope

October 21, 1994|DAVID WILLMAN and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A proposed reorganization of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's management of Los Angeles subway construction calls for a handful of limited changes, but avoids more sweeping measures that had been under consideration.

Prepared by MTA Chief Executive Officer Franklin E. White and aides, the proposal drew immediate criticism from two state legislators with jurisdiction over transportation spending.

The plan drafted by the local transit officials proposes a series of management and engineering changes designed to prevent a repeat of the kinds of problems that have plagued the project.

White's proposal calls for shifting, over a seven-month period, a handful of inspection-management consultants under the direct employment of the MTA. It was sent confidentially this week to the Federal Transit Administration, which on Oct. 5 cut off $1.6 billion of future subway funding because of dissatisfaction with the MTA's management of construction.

"The FTA did the right thing in cutting off the funding," said Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Katz. "They ought to be demanding a whole lot more (than what White's plan proposes). The FTA came out with a big 2-by-4. It would be a shame for it to turn into a toothpick."

Katz noted that the proposal makes no mention of whether White still intends to dissolve the Rail Construction Corp., an MTA subsidiary that has overseen subway safety, construction quality and costs since mid-1990.

At the request of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, the MTA board has twice postponed votes on White's earlier request to disband the subsidiary, which has drawn criticism from some officials for being too lenient with contractors. The matter could surface at Wednesday's MTA meeting.

The proposal also indicates that White will not seek to terminate the contract of either Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, the builder of the troubled subway tunnels in Hollywood, or MTA-hired consulting firms that supervised the work.

White, in addition to seeking a lifting of the freeze on future federal funding, asked Federal Transit Administrator Gordon J. Linton for approval to resume tunneling along Hollywood Boulevard. White did not specify a date, but has said that he would like to resume digging by month's end. Excavation in Hollywood has been halted since Aug. 18, when surface sinkages of nine inches were confirmed.

"We remain optimistic that all outstanding issues can be resolved by the end of the month," White said in a memo received Thursday by MTA board members regarding the proposal, which he called a working draft. "Our goal is to resume tunneling as soon as possible, but only when we have concurrence from the (Federal Transit Administration)."

A spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration would not speculate Thursday as to when the agency would permit tunneling to resume in Los Angeles.

The spokesman, Pete Halpin, said federal officials have raised "some questions that aren't addressed by the report." He said he could not comment more specifically.

"In the view of our technical folks, they're looking for some more information," Halpin said from Washington.

In Los Angeles, local transit officials met Thursday with staff of the Federal Transit Administration to review the plan for resuming tunneling. And, included in the package sent by White to Washington, were new construction procedures recommended by the inspection-management firm, Parsons-Dillingham.

For instance, the engineers recommended that metal struts be used for tunnel bracing--not wooden wedges. Substitution of the wedges was approved in 1992 by Parsons-Dillingham and by the project's chief design engineer, employed by the firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The wedges were crushed under Hollywood Boulevard and project engineers have concluded that the failure contributed to the surface sinkages.

Three types of soil-stabilizing grouting procedures also were recommended. The grouting procedures were not performed in the worst-affected area of tunneling.

Copies of the reorganization proposal and related analyses provided by consultants of the MTA and the Federal Transit Administration were obtained by The Times. Among the developments:

* The federal government's consultant for subway work in Los Angeles said in an Oct. 13 report that the MTA "relented to the contractor's demands" by reinstating Shea-Kiewit-Kenny's tunneling superintendent, who had been expelled for safety-related reasons.

The reinstatement of the superintendent, by the MTA's then-president of rail construction, Edward McSpedon, was reported on Oct. 8 by The Times. White ousted McSpedon three days later, while praising his performance.

The federal government's consultant, Hill International Inc., questioned the reinstatement of the superintendent, Norm Hutchins, and criticized the MTA's commitment to enforcing safety standards. "The (MTA) needs to be more forceful with regard to making (Shea-Kiewit-Kenny) reinforce its commitment to safety," said Hill International.

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