After the controversy – Silver Spring Transit Center’s future

Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center behind a chain-link fence – for now. Photo by Alex Holt.

BY ALEX HOLT

After two decades of planning, six years of construction and several disputes, some of them ongoing, the Silver Spring Transit Center could finally open next year. Even if Montgomery County and WMATA agree to make further repairs as a precaution against falling blocks of concrete, the perpetually delayed transit hub currently surrounded by a chain-link fence might be ready in 2015.

“It is still our plan to complete the construction this year and to turn it over to WMATA”, said David Dise, the director of the Montgomery County Department of General Services and one of the main overseers for the project. Since he spoke, the The Washington Post reported May 8 that WMATA officials would not take over transit operations until certain work was done, which is likely to delay the turnover until 2015.

But all the controversy that’s surrounded the Silver Spring Transit Center during its long construction could eventually be overshadowed by the impact the building will have on one of the fastest growing suburbs in the Washington metropolitan area.

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Architect’s drawing showing the northwest view, from above the existing Silver Spring Metro station – visible at lower right. County image.

“Once the Transit Center is open, it will increasingly over the years become more and more busy and identified in WMATA’s transportation plan as a hub of the area of public transit,” Dise said.

The Transit Center will serve Montgomery County’s Ride On bus service, WMATA’s Metrobus, Silver Spring’s Van-Go shuttle, and Maryland Transit Administration and University of Maryland bus routes as well as Metrorail’s Red Line and MARC’s Brunswick Line. There will be expanded Kiss & Ride and taxi spaces and more room for inter-city bus companies such as Greyhound. It will also be a key stop on the Purple Line light-rail route, which Dise said is being designed to coordinate with the Transit Center’s other tenants and Montgomery County public information officer Esther Bowring said there are plans to open a Capital Bikeshare station at the site.

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Architect’s view of the interior. County image.

Once the Transit Center actually does open its doors, Dise said its temporary stand-in, which the Department of General Services calls the “Interim Operations Center” will quickly be dismantled.

“The Interim Operations Center has been intended from the start to be interim,” Dise said. “The only real thing that we did in setting up the IOS was we did some curb cuts for pedestrian access, ridership access and a few other minor things but all of that will be restored and it will become sidewalks again.”

Because the Silver Spring Transit Center’s construction has taken so long, one key planning challenge is fitting the Transit Center alongside the considerable amount of development in Silver Spring.

“This is all part of the Silver Spring Master Plan,” Dise said, adding that eventually two new apartment buildings will be built next to the Transit Center.

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Last fall – filling cracks that developed because of sub-standard concrete. County image.

In the meantime, the Transit Center’s construction has posed a challenge for Ride On officials who had to alter their bus routes.

“There used to be a lot there,” Bowring said. “The bus routes were coming in and out of that area where the Transit Center’s located so they had to relocate the bus routes to the streets around there, so the buses come and go on the streets. And once the center is open, the buses will all then go back and be located together at the center.”

Both Bowring and Dise said the DGS was able to lessen the impact of the Transit Center’s construction on pedestrians by opening up the part of the Metropolitan Branch Trail that runs alongside the MARC tracks. But Evan Glass, a Silver Spring resident who served as president of the South Silver Spring Neighborhood Association and is a Montgomery County Council candidate, said the building’s construction has taken far too long.

“The problems with the Transit Center are a blight and an embarrassment to Silver Spring,” Glass said. “Our marquee intersection from Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road is an eyesore. The fact that we have a concrete hulking structure surrounded by a chain-link fence in the heart of Silver Spring’s downtown is a shame.”

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Photo by Alex Holt.

Glass also said the construction has placed too much of a strain on bus commuters like himself.

“The bus stops in downtown Silver Spring are scattered over a two block area,” Glass said. “People are waiting in the cold outside and they deserve better. People are upset that this transit center is years overdue and tens of millions of dollars over budget.”

Even so, Glass says the Silver Spring Transit Center is absolutely necessary because of Silver Spring’s recent population boom.

“More people are taking the buses, more people are taking the Metro and this building will help with the flow of that pedestrian traffic,” Glass said. “Silver Spring is becoming a city unto itself. Silver Spring is a small city and the more ways we can ease people’s transportation, the better the entire community will be.”

About the Author

Alex Holt
Alex Holt is a first-year graduate student in the Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland and a recent graduate of Ithaca College. When not at school, he lives in Baltimore, Maryland and he hopes to eventually pursue a career in sports journalism.