Silver Spring's Plans For Transit Center Move to Final Stages

A rendering of the planned Silver Spring Transit Center. Construction on the complex is scheduled to begin this fall and is expected to be complete in 2009.
A rendering of the planned Silver Spring Transit Center. Construction on the complex is scheduled to begin this fall and is expected to be complete in 2009. (Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade & Douglas Inc.-zimmer, Gunsul, Frasca Partnership)
By Christian Davenport
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 23, 2006

Downtown Silver Spring, which has recently undergone a swift and dramatic revitalization, could in a few years get a transportation hub to match.

Plans for the $75 million Silver Spring Transit Center are in final form, and despite some political squabbling between Montgomery County and the state, construction should begin this fall, officials said. The center is expected to be complete by spring or summer 2009.

The project would transform the bus depot on Colesville Road -- an unsightly swath of concrete -- into a glimmering, multilevel center on 5.7 acres that would also feature two condominium towers, a hotel, street-level shops and a public promenade.

"This is a major enhancement for the future," said Bruce E. Johnston, chief of the Montgomery County Division of Capital Development.

The transit center plans come as downtown Silver Spring has changed from a blighted and largely vacant wasteland to a vibrant area now home to the headquarters of Discovery Communications Inc., the American Film Institute and many new shops and restaurants. There is a Whole Foods grocery store, a Borders Books and Music and even a wine cafe.

The existing transportation facility, which includes the Silver Spring Metro station, is 30 years old, and is "not in keeping with the surrounding development," according to county planning documents.

Plans for the new transit center include three oval-shaped levels, with the first two for buses. One level is to have access to Colesville Road, the other to Ramsey Avenue.

The two entry points are expected to lead to better traffic flow than the current configuration, where buses enter the station from Wayne Avenue.

The top level is to have an area for Metro's Kiss & Ride lot, a taxi stand and some short-term parking.

The MARC station would stay where it is, adjacent to the Metro station. But the center would have a new MARC ticket office that would also be home to a commercial intercity bus carrier.

"This project is critical to the economic growth of Silver Spring," U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) said in a statement.

Buses, Metrorail and taxis serve 57,000 people a day, according to county officials. By 2020, that figure could jump to 97,000.

"What we're trying to do is to make it very easy for a commuter to take the bus, transfer to Metro or to MARC and get to where they're going easily, seamlessly," said David Weaver, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D).

At a news conference last month announcing that $24 million in federal money had been approved for the project, Duncan lashed out at Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) for not providing an additional $6 million the county was expecting from the state. Duncan is running for governor and would face Ehrlich in the general election if he wins the Democratic primary.

Ehrlich's rebuff "threatens to delay this important project and throws a wrench in our otherwise successful revitalization efforts," he said.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said in a phone interview last week that he was "puzzled" by Duncan's accusation. "Our commitment has always been $38 million (to the project), and we're delivering on that," he said.

In addition to the transit center, developer Silver Spring Metro LLC plans to build a 200-room hotel and two residential towers with 450 units. There would also be 25,000 square feet of retail space and landscaped open space.

While most of Silver Spring's redevelopment has occurred north of Georgia Avenue, the transit center will help spur growth in the southern part of the area, Weaver said.

"The revitalization is spilling into south Silver Spring," he said. "And that's what is most exciting."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company