Feds give Silver Spring transit center $24M boost

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

An additional $24 million in federal funds has been allocated for the construction of a new center that will bring together all modes of transit at the Silver Spring Metro station. However, a final $6 million needed from the state for the project was not included in the governor’s budget.

Officials announced the federal allocation Monday morning at the Silver Spring Metro, and also used the occasion to criticize the state for not funding the difference. Officials expect to break ground in 2007 on the center, which has a $75 million price tag. They expect to begin constructing an interim center in 2006.

In total, the center has received slightly more than $50 million in federal funds, said County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). However, Duncan, who is hoping to unseat incumbent Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), criticized state government for pulling back on its commitment to the project and said that money needs to be restored to keep the transit center on track.

‘‘We haven’t seen this kind of push for transit from our administration in Annapolis,” Duncan said, comparing the state’s contribution to the project to the federal contribution.

Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington said there is state money available; it’s just a matter of it being allocated to this particular transit project.

‘‘There’s more [to transportation] than just the [Intercounty Connector],” Madaleno said, referring to a highway project that has become a priority for the current administration.

However, said Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan (R) in a Tuesday interview, the state has contributed $38 million to the Silver Spring Transit Center project, which it had committed to during the transit center’s earlier planning stages. ‘‘Montgomery County was responsible for the remainder of the project,” Flanagan said.

The project increased in scope and in cost, Flanagan said, and he said it was the county’s responsibility to pay the difference.

‘‘Basically, there are a lot of demands on state funding and ... this was not something that the Montgomery County legislators lobbied for when the new funding was agreed to,” he said. ‘‘... The other piece of this, quite frankly, is that Montgomery County is going to ... receive a lot of increased real estate taxes as a result of this project. It would be fair for Montgomery County to use the increased real estate revenue to fund the differential.”

The state has contributed money to several transportation and public transit projects, like a new transit center in Langley Park, Flanagan said. ‘‘Mass transit is a very important part of a balanced transportation program.”

The Silver Spring Metro station — one of the busiest in the state — serves nearly 60,000 patrons a day who are accessing buses, Metro and the MARC trains, said Arthur Holmes, director of the county’s Department of Public Works and Transit. That number is expected to double by 2020.

‘‘Clearly this is an important project,” he said.

The center is also necessary because of the visitors coming to downtown Silver Spring, said U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington.

The new center would bring together buses, Metro trains, MARC trains, taxi cabs, a hiker-biker trail and intercity bus services in one place, and would also accommodate whatever form the Bi-County Transitway, also known as the Purple Line, takes. It will also offer better access for pedestrians, as well as a park, plaza and transit-oriented retail. The new facility will be three-tiered, with two bus entrances and one entrance for cars.

The total project area is 5.7 acres, owned mainly by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The county owns 1.9 of those acres.

‘‘The only piece missing is the Purple Line,” said County Council President George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park. In spring 2007, he said, the governor will decide the mode and route the line will take. ‘‘That’s the final piece we need to make this a real transit center.”

The site will be home to more than different modes of transit. Rockville-based developer Foulger-Pratt, who aided in downtown Silver Spring’s revitalization, will build a hotel on the site, as well as a residential and retail component. ‘‘This has always been ... an integral part of our vision for the redeveloped downtown,” Duncan said, adding he’s hoping money that wasn’t added to the state budget can be restored so the project stays on schedule.

Some federal money was initially designated for the project 12 years ago, said U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) of Baltimore. Since then, he said, officials have worked to make the center a reality.

‘‘This will be a wonderful gateway,” Sarbanes said, adding the center will be a model for other communities. ‘‘Silver Spring is already attracting national and international attention in terms of its revitalization and renaissance.”