WELL OVER 20,000 passengers get on and off buses at Metro’s Silver Spring station on weekdays, and if they share any particular virtue, there’s a good bet that it’s patience. A new transit center there that would simplify their trips and provide direct access to Metrorail and MARC trains has been practically a decade in the making. It is now four years behind schedule thanks mainly to engineering and design problems that required huge and costly repairs to the hulking structure.
Now virtually finished, the facility will sit unused, fenced and forlorn for a further two months as Montgomery County, which built it, and Metro, which will take it over, undertake a slow-motion passing of the baton, culminating with a meeting at the end of September at which Metro’s board is expected to officially “accept” the structure and grant its blessing for a formal opening.
The end game of the project’s much-delayed completion has been embroiled in 11th-hour theatrics, courtesy of some overzealous lawyers at Metro who tried to shake down the county for cash and future considerations. The county cried foul, Metro backed down and now the warring parties are once again preparing to shake hands and call it a day, with a best-guess opening date for the transit center sometime in October. (The Metro board could have bestowed its blessing a month earlier and moved up the center’s opening, were it scheduled to meet any earlier — but it’s not. As we said: patience.)
The three-tiered depot is a sort of capstone for downtown Silver Spring’s transformation from a dowdy suburban wasteland in the ’90s to the spruced-up bustling hub today that is home to the American Film Institute, the Discovery Channel, a major campus of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fillmore theater, to name a few cultural and job venues.
The transit center’s sorry saga of delays and cost overruns is very likely to have a drawn-out epilogue as Montgomery prepares to sue Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project engineer — which the county blames for design flaws that made the facility unfit for use without major fixes, which are only now finished — and possibly Foulger-Pratt, the lead construction contractor.
Even this summer, Metro, seeking a contingency fund from the county for future remediation, suggested that the repairs were “showing signs of degradation already.” Then, having alarmed its ridership, the transit agency seemed to drop that particular concern. It is now readying a public relations campaign to alert the traveling public that the transit center will be a-okay and open for business . . . very soon.
Compared with Manhattan’s Second Avenue subway and Boston’s Big Dig, the Silver Spring Transit Center is small potatoes when it comes to testing the public’s tolerance for screw-ups, stops and starts and spiraling costs. Still, at $141 million, it is $50 million over budget, which is bad enough. Metro and county officials should not push their luck any further. It’s time to finish the job.