Commuters demand answers about Silver Spring Transit Center delay

January 9, 2013

Correction: An earlier version of this story, relying on a county website that had not been updated, misidentified Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro as vice president and Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner as council president.

A commuter advocacy group, frustrated by the long-running delay in the completion of the Silver Spring Transit Center, called Wednesday for more information from county officials.

The head of the Action Committee for Transit said that many questions remain unanswered a year after the public first learned that construction of the complex had been halted.

“We may not be thrilled with the answers, but we would like to know more about what is going on,” Tina Slater, the group’s president, said at a news conference outside the unfinished structure along Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring.

Commuters had high hopes for the project, which is intended to bolster the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring and streamline public transportation there, bringing together Metro, MARC, Ride On, taxis, intercity buses and other transportation.

Concerns about the structure’s concrete flooring led authorities to suspend work on the project in 2010, although those issues did not become public until January 2012.

A county-commissioned structural and engineering analysis is due at the of the month, and that could allow construction to resume in time to open the complex by the fall, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said.

But the Action Committee for Transit said the county isn’t keeping the public adequately informed and needs to provide a public forum, like one held last fall, to update the community.

Montgomery County Council President Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County) said she shares the group’s interest in seeing the project move forward.

“I’m frustrated as well,” she said. “This is a project we were looking forward to. It’s a very important project.”

But she and other officials said the activists need to be patient.

The delay over the concrete issue is the most recent of more than a dozen the transit center has seen over the past 15 years. Construction was supposed to be complete by 2003. Since then, the project’s budget has more than tripled to $112 million from $35 million.

Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) said he was surprised by the advocacy group’s demands.

“It isn’t clear to me at this moment that we need a public hearing,” Berliner said. “We need to get a report from our engineering firm first. When the firm puts out that report, then we’ll have something to talk about.”

Berliner and Navarro said the report will be posted on the Council’s Web site once it is released.

“Once we figure out exactly what needs to be done to make it right, we’re going to move ahead,” Lacefield said.

Litigation between the county and the contractor is still a possibility but won’t slow down the project, county officials said.

“Litigation, if it happens, will be years,” Berliner said. “So we are going to make sure this work gets done and we’re going to handle litigation on a separate track if it takes place.”

Slater said she hopes that is the case, because commuter frustration isn’t going away any time soon.

“It took 100 years to build a cathedral back in medieval days,” Slater said. “How long does it take to build a bus terminal?”

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