Sunday, September 28, 2008

Disruption to come with transit center construction - Gazette

Bus stops will move as work begins on $91 million dollar Silver Spring facility

by Jason Tomassini | Staff Writer | Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2008

After more than 10 years of planning, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held Friday for the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center, with significant changes for commuters and pedestrians beginning Sunday.

The $91 million project at Wayne Avenue and Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring will provide a central location for Metro trains, MARC trains, taxis and bus services including Ride-On, Metro, VanGo, University of Maryland and Montgomery College. The project also will accommodate a future Purple Line station.

Construction on the project, which will begin next month, will displace many bus stops, with temporary bus shelters to be installed along Wayne and Dixon avenues and Bonifant Street.

Nine Ride-On stops will be along Bonifant, while 11 Metro stops will be along Wayne. Six stops serving both Ride-On and Metro buses will be along Dixon; two stops along Wayne will also service two Ride-On lines each. In all, there will be 25 stops equipped with shelters.

VanGo bus services will come in and out of a stop near the corner of Wayne and Ramsey avenues, as well as a stop near the Metro entrance. University of Maryland shuttle services will run out of a stop near the corner of Bonifant and Dixon.

Taxis will be located on Ramsey Avenue near the intersection with Wayne. There will be no changes to MTA commuter bus stops or routes.

More than 80,000 bilingual brochures outlining the changes to bus routes will be distributed on buses and at transit stations in the downtown, said Gary Stith, director of the Silver Spring Regional Center.

For the first few weeks, transit personnel will be on hand to direct commuters. Throughout construction, crossing guards will be on duty during morning and afternoon rushes. Members from Silver Spring's Clean and Safe Team also will patrol the area to help commuters and manage the site.

"It's iffy that it will operate smoothly, but we are going to [try the best] we can to make it happen," Stith said. "If you are driving through Silver Spring, stay away from Wayne Avenue."

In the initial stages of construction, Stith said access to the Metro station at 8400 Colesville Road will be available only along Wayne with plans to eventually open Bonifant to pedestrians as well. The MARC platform on Bonifant must be accessed from the south rather than the north during construction.

"It may take a little bit of time for our customers to get used to it," said Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. "But … these are savvy users that will know quickly where to go to get the train or bus."

The Silver Spring Commuter Express Store has been relocated to 8413 Ramsey Ave. and renamed TriPS (Transportation, Resources, Information and Places to See). The TRiPS store sells bus passes and tokens for Ride On and Metrobus, SmarTrip Cards, Metrorail and MetroAccess farecards.

Businesses downtown have met with transit center planners for three years to limit the impact of construction, said Jane Redicker, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce.

"Signage and wayfinding are really the most important things," Redicker said. "Initially, that is one of the things we talked about, making sure people could find where new buses are from where the old buses were."

The chamber gave input to planners on signage and bus stop locations that would minimize auto and pedestrian traffic near businesses, Redicker said.

When construction is finished, the transit center will be a great asset for Silver Spring residents, but the volume of people continuously around the construction site could lead to problems, said Darian Unger, chairman of the Silver Spring Citizens Advisory Board.

"This is going to be extraordinarily difficult," Unger said. "We are expecting a good transit center when it's over.

"I want the construction to be as trouble-free as possible, but I doubt it will be trouble-free."

Unger said he was pleased with the lobbying of Silver Spring residents and officials to keep many important design elements like streetscaping and "green" features in the project plans. The Montgomery County Council approved an additional $18.6 million for the transit center in July after it came in over budget. The project is being developed by Rockville-based Foulger-Pratt.

The transit center will also include housing and a hotel.

Along with the county's 1.5-acre Veterans Plaza and Civic Building project at the corner of Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive, which began construction Sept. 10, the transit center is another public project that will attract private development, Stith said.

"Having good transportation services in an urban setting are critical to its success," he said. "People need to get to work and get to where they live."

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