Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Council approves additional $18.6 million for transit center

Funding covers escalating costs, tops previous requests for $91 million facility in Silver Spring

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The Montgomery County Council voted to approve more than $18.6 million in supplemental funding, an increase over recommendations from both the county executive and a council committee, to pay for escalating costs associated with the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center project.

The additional funding will pay for nearly all the Montgomery County Planning Board had previously listed as ‘‘essential elements” to make the project an example of design excellence. The board and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who requested $16.72 million, had been in disagreement during the funding debate as to what the county needed to fund now and what could be paid for later.

‘‘The community ... has said to us over and over again that they want us to fund the whole thing,” Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said at the County Council meeting Tuesday. ‘‘I think that we should be building buildings that are aesthetically beautiful. ... And we have that opportunity now before we put a spade in the ground.”

The estimated $91 million transit center would include housing and a hotel on the site, and consolidate buses, Metro trains, MARC trains and taxis. The project, to be developed by Rockville-based Foulger-Pratt, will be constructed to accommodate a future Purple Line station. Construction on the project will begin in September, with about 26 months of work to follow.

The original funding request of $16.72 million from Leggett was to pay for a number of items that came in over budget, including streetscaping, canopies using glass panels and an environmentally friendly ‘‘green” roof, despite value engineering and design changes to help cut costs.

The council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee recommended adding about $1.4 million on top of Leggett’s request at a meeting Monday. That $1.4 million was to pay for an additional escalator, an asphalt treatment on the crosswalks to make the walkways look like other sidewalks in Silver Spring, and breakaway concrete that would allow the private developer to make future improvements, including paving, to the sidewalk.

Ervin introduced two amendments to the committee’s recommendation to restore funding to relocate a transit store to the plaza and construct a canopy at the station entrance. The County Council voted to approve about $490,000 on top of the committee’s $1.4 million recommendation to pay for the canopy in a 5-4 vote. The amendment to include even more funding to move the proposed transit store from its current spot in the back of the center to the plaza was voted down, 6-3.

‘‘This project has been value engineered to death,” County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said Tuesday. ‘‘This center is not the same center that everybody was so enthusiastic about in the beginning.”

Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, chairwoman of the council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment committee, voted against both amendments, saying that the committee had been getting ‘‘cost anxious” when voting down certain elements over others.

Elements requested by the Planning Board or the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority that will not included in the final design include an additional stairwell to provide access from the top of the facility to the mid-level deck and all-glass panels on the stair and escalator enclosures.