Sunday, October 31, 2004


Did anyone else see this coming?

The Inquirer reported on Wednesday that the prime contractor for the Market Street El reconstruction is suing SEPTA to terminate its contract for the project, which as noted earlier this month, is now 2 years behind schedule.

PKF-Mark III filed suit in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court yesterday seeking release from its $74 million contract.

"We want out," said Peter E. Getchell, president of the Bucks County company. "We are just pretty much at the end of our rope in trying to get the work done."

This is a story little heard in the local construction world - a prime contractor on a multimillion-dollar project seeking a divorce.

SEPTA began the job to replace the El west of 63d Street in 2001 and expected to finish it first in 2006, then in 2007, and now in 2008. The job is a critical part of the $567 million El makeover in West Philadelphia.
Well, we're already two years behind. What's another couple of years between friends, right?

Informed of the lawsuit, SEPTA chairman Pasquale "Pat" T. Deon Sr. said he would seek to hold PKF to its contract.

"When you give your commitment with a bond and a contract, I expect you to live up to it and not go around and whine and try to change it," Deon said.

Disruptions caused by construction on Market Street and surrounding neighborhoods is regrettable, he added.

"The only thing I'm concerned about is that neighborhood," Deon said.
Excuse me while I laugh...

Deon faulted PKF for unsafe and low-quality construction, including steel beams that the transit agency rejected for poor manufacture.

"We cannot let them build something that is unsafe," he said.
Well, Don Pasquale, you ought to have known something about this contractor. They are from Bucks County, after all...

Different contractors are executing three other major projects on the El in West Philadelphia.

SEPTA and PKF, which was still fielding crews yesterday on the site, say that work on the Cobbs Creek end is proceeding slowly.

The complaint, which PKF filed in the late afternoon, claims that "SEPTA is in material breach of its contract" with the company.

It alleges that SEPTA did not make payments to PKF in accordance with the contract and "persistently interfered with PKF's means and methods." The suit goes on to say that SEPTA continually issued "unjustified stop orders," and failed to accept "work performed in accordance" with the contract and "accepted industry standards."

As a result of SEPTA's actions, PKF asserts that it has been delayed more than 600 days in its work and that its costs have "been substantially increased." PKF said it had "incurred or will incur over $34 million in damages."

SEPTA has 20 days to file its response to the suit.
"Persistently interfered with a company's means and methods?" Where have we heard that one before as it pertains to 1234 Market?

Officials for the city, which owns the El, say they are frustrated, but are uncertain what they can do. Next year, the city's lease agreement with SEPTA to run and maintain the El expires.

"This suit will prolong this thing [the PKF project). It certainly will raise a red flag here that we probably have to get more involved," City Managing Director Phil Goldsmith said yesterday. "There is not a heck of a lot we can do. We're dealing with a regional agency and the city's power is very limited. What makes it especially frustrating is that it is happening to city business people and residents."

City Councilwoman Jannie L. Blackwell pledged to hold public hearings on the El project on Nov. 22.

"This is horrible and I don't know what's going on," said Blackwell, who represents West Philadelphia. "Sounds to me that they're both probably wrong."

"This project has been a nightmare, the community has been a hostage, and I sometimes feel like it's never going to get done," she said.
Here's hoping Fearless Leader has a lot of answers for Councilwoman Blackwell; you may recall last year when Fearless Leader was grilled on the same issue at City Hall.

The Federal Transit Administration is funding 80 percent of the El's reconstruction. FTA spokesman Paul Griffo declined to comment yesterday.
Well, if you're the feds, you'd be worried to about the transit equivalent of Boston's "Big Dig" highway fiasco.

SEPTA and PKF have worked satisfactorily together on other projects, including last year's intricate reconstruction of the El in Northeast Philadelphia at the Frankford Transportation Center.
Which, as had been noted in the past, was one of the few projects that actually went for SEPTA.

Rarely do construction projects of this magnitude break down so dramatically, veteran transportation officials say. In 25 years with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, spokesman Bill Capone could not recall such an instance. In the mid-1980s, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials recalled replacing a major contractor during a rebuilding of Interstate 76.

"It just really is an admission of desperation and an admission that adults just can't work together," said Andy Warren, regional PennDot administrator and a former SEPTA board member. "To take that step, you can taste the frustration."

On a somewhat related note, a little bit of research through the web site shows that Mr. and Mrs. Getchell, who list their address as Perkasie, Bucks County, contributed $500 to the Democratic National Committee. The majority of the SEPTA Board (11 of the 15 members) are Republicans (8 appointed by the suburban legislative boards, 2 by Republican legislative leaders; Board Vice-Chair James Schwartzman is reportedly a Republican but appointed by the Senate Democratic leadership).

Draw your own conlcusions...

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