The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train -- but planners and county officials say that's a good thing for the Silver Spring Transit Center.
The Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday approved preliminary plans for the center, which would bring together all modes of transportation at the Silver Spring Metro station. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2006 and take two years.
The transit hub, which features a $75 million price tag, will unite Metro trains, MARC trains and buses, as well as whatever form the Bi-County Transitway takes. The transit center is a public/private development by the Maryland Department of Transportation, Maryland Transit Authority, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Montgomery County and Foulger-Pratt Company.
The new facility will be three-tiered, with two bus entrances and one entrance for cars. The first and second levels will contain bus loops. The top deck will have a Kiss and Ride, taxi stand and access to the MARC bridge. A central core with a canopy roof will provide light throughout the center. Currently, the station accommodates the Metrorail and MARC trains one level above ground, and accommodates buses in front of the station.
The center will be able to accommodate at least 34 buses. Vehicles will be able to access the facility on different levels off Colesville Road, Ramsey Avenue and Bonifant Street.
There also will be transit-oriented retail and commercial opportunities. Plans for that portion of the project will come before the Planning Board in the future.
The project also will accommodate hiker-biker trails -- three go through downtown Silver Spring -- and pedestrian systems, said Bruce Johnston, chief of the capital development division of the county's Department of Public Works and Transportation. Those trails would be marked as on-street bikeways or sidewalks, as well as a possible off-road path along Colesville Road, according to staff reports from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
"We feel this is a very exciting project and one that fits in extremely well with the ongoing efforts of redevelopment in downtown Silver Spring," Johnston said.
Silver Spring's bus terminal is the busiest in WMATA's system, he said. Silver Spring Metro's ridership is second highest in the county.
It's a project of significance, said Arthur Holmes, director of DPWT. The transit center doesn't just affect Silver Spring; it affects all of Montgomery County as well as surrounding areas and has been designed to handle mass transit projections for the next 20 years.
Since 1975, sector plans -- documents that detail acceptable amenities and uses for a community -- have emphasized the need for Silver Spring to be a major transit hub, said Glenn Kreger, Park and Planning team leader for Silver Spring and Takoma Park. The transit center will be around for a long time, so it needs to be built right.
"It will be far more than just a transit facility. It can actually be one of our crown jewels in Silver Spring," Kreger said.
Park and Planning staff recommended that the county's Department of Public Works address and possibly remove a proposed jughandle that would direct traffic around Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue in order to reduce the likelihood of accidents, as well as replace the Metro Urban Park currently on the site and ensure the transit center will be compatible to development on nearby Ripley Street and the surrounding area.
"We expect a lot of redevelopment in the Ripley District, starting with the new KSI project on Ripley Street," Kreger said, referring to a pending residential project.
Overall, residents and members of the Planning Board were pleased with plans for the center, though they reminded officials that the building should accommodate the people who use it.
Harry Sanders, a Silver Spring resident and co-founder of the Action Committee for Transit, said the transit center should create a positive experience for its users. "It's the heart of the future transit network," he said.
Planning Board Chairman Derek P. Berlage said he would like to see DPWT address the proposed jughandle at Colesville Road, as well as put effort into replacing the aging park on the property.