The Silver Line is one of the biggest transit projects in the United States. The streetcar will restore a form of surface transit the District hasn’t used in half a century. The transit center is just a three-deck garage.
Over their long histories from concepts to construction, each project busted through sets of targets. Each has had an impact on travelers because of the construction disruptions and the delays.
But it’s the transit center construction, the smallest of the three programs and the one that should have been the most manageable, that has created the most difficulty for travelers for the longest time.
Downtown Silver Spring was and is one of the major transfer points in the D.C. region. It brings together travelers using Metrorail, Metrobus, MARC trains, MTA commuter buses, Montgomery County Ride On buses, taxis, bikes and cars. The transit center will, someday, replace the old bus bays and taxi stand and kiss-and-ride area by the Metrorail station.
To clear space for the transit center construction, the bus bays, taxi stand and kiss-and-ride were moved away and scattered about downtown Silver Spring.
That was in 2008. Since then, tens of thousands of pedestrians, bus riders, taxi patrons, Metrorail riders and motorists have been inconvenienced by a project that Montgomery County officials said should take about two years to complete.
Commuters had to make way for all three transit projects. But the D.C. streetcar tracks were laid down as part of another effort, the Great Streets project, so that H Street and Benning Road wouldn’t have to be torn up twice. That was completed several years ago. The delays have mostly been about acquiring the streetcars themselves, getting them certified and setting up maintenance facilities. The Silver Line delays you’ve been reading about since late last year are largely about construction, certification and punch-list issues within the line’s right of way. The opening isn’t delayed by traffic-disrupting road work.
The people who were pushed out of the old Silver Spring transit hub by the construction project have had their commutes disrupted every single day since 2008, and for them, there’s no end in sight.
Yes, the completion of the transit center will bring them benefits they didn’t have at the old hub. Many people will have a drier place to wait for buses and taxis in inclement weather than they did with the old shelters. But unlike the Silver Line and the D.C. streetcar, the greatest benefit to these thousands of Silver Spring commuters won’t be the new stuff. The biggest benefit will simply be the elimination of the walk between rail station and bus stops, or between rail station and taxis, or between bus stops and bus stops, or between kiss-and-ride parking and rail station that they’ve endured for the past six years — and counting.
Even the drivers who are just passing through on their way to and from D.C. or other parts of Montgomery must travel along streets crowded with pedestrians and stopped buses.
So as you continue reading about the dispute over transit center repairs among the Montgomery County government, the general contractor Foulger-Pratt and the designer and engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff — and you will continue to read about that — please don’t think only about concrete. Think also about your fellow commuters and the unfulfilled promise made to them by county government leaders who oversee this debacle of a project.