County's transit center plan draws fire
Apr. 7, 1999

by Liz M. Zylwitis

Staff Writer

April 7, 1999

A transportation advocacy group voiced objections last week to Montgomery County's plans to improve the Silver Spring transit center.

The Action Committee for Transit -- which is made up of approximately 100 people who have worked for more than a decade to improve the transit system in Montgomery County -- voiced its objections in a letter to the county's transportation planners.

In the past, some ACT members have testified on behalf of funding the improvements currently being developed by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation and Public Works. But now the group says that, although it cannot argue with the concept of improving the transit center, the plans for those improvements need to be readjusted to reflect new opportunities, such as a possible light rail line connecting Silver Spring with Bethesda and College Park.

At a workshop in late February to discuss preliminary plans for the new transit center, roughly 50 people gathered at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission auditorium to hear a description of the plans and provide feedback.

Webb Smedley, an ACT member who is a strong proponent of transit-oriented development, was among those in attendance. He recalled that while serving on the Silver Spring Redevelopment Steering Committee in late 1997, he told county planners that the transit center project seemed to have too much in the way of transportation features and not enough retail, housing, office or other elements.

At that time, Smedley and others asked the county to consider adding as much as 25,000 square feet of retail space to the transit center plan.

At the February meeting, Smedley and other ACT members again asked that more space go to non-transportation uses. They argued that more commercial space at the center would encourage ridership and stand a good chance of success if it is well-designed. And the ACT members pleaded with county planners to take a closer look at the impact of their proposed building program on the transit center and surrounding area.

Last week's letter that ACT sent to county planners also opposed a bus storage facility at the transit center, the design of 44 bus bays and the absence of a trail to accommodate pedestrians.

Fred Edwards, chief of the Department of Transportation and Public Works' Division of Facilities and Services, said the February meeting produced a lot of feedback.

"Architecture was a particular concern," Edwards said. "Some said the design would make the transit center look like a sports center. After the meeting, our consultant took the comments and looked at how to deal with each of them."

County planners, who are working on solutions to the earlier problems identified by ACT, will host a second public workshop in May to address the issues. Edwards said they hope to win over most of the interested parties, including Discovery Communications Inc., the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Then the project will be sent to WMATA for a review. Since WMATA officials operate the center, it is important that the county present the right concept to them, Edwards said.

After WMATA approves the plan, it will come back to the Montgomery County Planning Board for a mandatory referral, providing one last window for public comment before final design work starts in October.

"Our concern is that when this project is brought before the public, it will have a lot of engineering work flaws, which will cause the public to reject it," Smedley said. "If the project is well-designed, however, it can go forward."