Agencies agree on concept for downtown transit center
Aug. 13, 1997

After eight months of disagreements, various governmental agencies have finally agreed on a concept for the much-anticipated Silver Spring Transit Center project, and they presented the new design to the Montgomery County Council July 24.

The Maryland County's Department of Public Works and Transportation, the staff of the Montgomery County Planning Board, the Maryland Mass Transit Administration and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority introduced a new and revised concept for the development of the Silver Spring mass transportation center. The center is not yet fully funded.

The interagency group said the new designs for the Silver Spring Transit Center project fully address rider transportation needs and will complement the city's revitalization efforts.

County Council members Gail Ewing (D-At large) of Potomac, Isiah Leggett (D-At large) of Burtonsville and Neal Potter (D-At large) of Chevy Chase attended the meeting.

Last year, the planning board had questioned whether the old design met pedestrian needs, or whether it met adequate standards of urban design.

But new concept for the Silver Spring Transit Center project is no longer "just a bus terminal. It looks a lot better and works a lot better for pedestrians," said Glenn Orlin, deputy council staff director.

The project to consolidate the relocation of the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) system with the Silver Spring Metro station into the Silver Spring Transit Center will occur in two phases.

Phase I involves moving the commuter rail platforms from its current location at Georgia Avenue near the District line to the Silver Spring Metro Station. This will provide passengers the convenience of having the MARC, Metrorail and buses all in one location, transportation officials said. Construction for Phase I is expected to begin next spring, Orlin said.

Phase II of the ongoing project would create a larger transit center to accommodate more bays for Metrobuses and Ride-On buses, a small intercity bus terminal, more kiss-and-ride and taxi spaces, and enhanced pedestrian movement through the area.

The interagency group said benefits of the transit center include convenient connections between modes of transportation, improved bus circulation between the bays, storage for bays on site and improved pedestrian access.

And unlike the current design, the new transit center will accommodate persons with disabilities under the rules of the Americans with Disability Act.

In addition, the Silver Spring Transit Center will be a prominent feature of the area's central business district, transit officials said.

Because the center is designed to make it safer for pedestrians to move around the different locations in the center, council members are hoping it will attract more people to the transportation center.

The MTA predicts the consolidation will increase ridership.

Under the current system, 57,000 bus and Metrorail trips begin and or end at the Silver Spring station. The number is expected to increase by 20,000 by year 2020.

Construction for phase II of the Silver Spring Transit Center has been pushed back a year from its previous start-up date, according to Orlin. Agency officials are expecting the new transit center will be completed by 2002.

Now, the main task for the county and state is to find funding for construction of the transit center.

Initially, money for both projects had been estimated at $20 million, $4.8 million for phase I and $15.2 million for phase II. The federal Transit Administration had already awarded the funds for the transportation center.

However, new estimates for the project total $36.25 million. The county and state will now have to raise an additional $21 million to build the Silver Spring Transit Center.

John J. Clark, director of the project development office at Public Works and Transportation, said his agency has "reasonable confidence that the money will be forthcoming."

He said his agency is hopeful that Congress will ratify a five-year nationwide program to provide funding to improve transportation facilities among the 50 states.

Clark said since the transit center will be an amenity to Silver Spring, he is confident that "the merits of the project will ultimately win us this very needed money."

The Silver Spring Metro station is currently served by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Metrobus, Montgomery County Ride-On buses, the Maryland Mass Transit Administration's commuter bus service, the University of Maryland Shuttle, a kiss-and-ride lot and a taxi stand.