Progress on Silver Spring transit center not so sexy yet

The Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring should be done in 2011.
The Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring should be done in 2011. (Montgomery County Department Of Public Works & Transportation)
Sunday, December 13, 2009

More than a year into construction, the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit Center in Silver Spring remains a landscape of dirt, mud, pooled water and grass. Way too much grass, some travelers said during the summer and early fall. But the pace of construction has picked up.

Preliminaries were deep and dull

A 33-second video posted on YouTube shows one image per week of the construction scene from June 12 through Sept. 2. On the video, the sky goes through more changes than the work zone. Commuters who hustle past the cordoned-off area on their way to and from the Silver Spring Metro station wrote in to ask why they weren't seeing more progress.

The pace of construction picked up considerably in the fall. Front-end loaders, construction cranes, pile drivers and work crews now move about the work zone. Flaggers halt traffic to allow loaded dump trucks to exit the site.

David Dise, director of Montgomery County's Department of General Services, said that for about 10 months, the bulk of the work involved utility relocation, including coming up with an approach that would avoid major work on nearby Colesville Road, a commuter route. Also, some contaminated soil and old equipment had to be removed.

As a result, the construction schedule slowed during the summer and early fall. "It took some time to come up with a good, lasting solution that was economical and would avoid tearing up Colesville," Dise said. The project is three or four months behind schedule but should be done in early 2011, he said.

Although time-consuming, a lot of this preliminary work hasn't been very dramatic or highly visible. Dise said the contractor, Foulger-Pratt, finished work on temporary sediment and erosion-control facilities, including storm water management ponds, which were very visible during the recent heavy rainstorms. The contractor also finished test drillings into the subsurface rock to determine the caisson elevations for the foundation of the main structure.

Fall and winter work involves more excavation, rock blasting, caisson installation and construction of a big retaining wall by the MARC and Metro lines, ensuring that the tracks remain undisturbed during the project. Probably the most dramatic thing that passersby will notice in the near future is that the hole in the ground is going to become about twice as big as it was in the summer.

Commuters probably will not see concrete and steel rising from the site until late winter or early spring. But "once the excavation is done, you're going to see it spring out of the ground," Dise said.

When the job is done

The Silver Spring site is one of the Washington region's major transportation hubs, drawing together Metrorail and Metrobus, MARC trains, MTA commuter buses, Montgomery County Ride On buses as well as taxis. Thousands of commuters use nearby Colesville Road, East-West Highway and Georgia Avenue. As Silver Spring redeveloped, the need to reorganize the transit center became apparent, although a final agreement on the design and financing was a long time coming. In early 2006, county planners were hoping that the center would be done by now. The project probably will cost about $93 million, with much of the funds coming from the state of Maryland and the federal government.

Replacing what was essentially a big parking lot for buses, taxis and kiss-and-ride commuters will be an eight-acre, three-level complex linking rail, bus and auto traffic. It will double the number of bus bays and also open up space for intercity buses. Pedestrians and vehicles will have a safer and, when it rains, drier area to be in.

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