Spending Millions on Transit; Getting Thousands in Value

A $112 million transit center in Silver Spring, Maryland, is years behind schedule due to serious construction flaws. After detecting the flaws, Montgomery County officials halted construction and hired en engineering firm to look at the center.

That firm’s report found that the pillars supporting the three-level center are inadequate to hold the buses that are supposed to use one of the levels; the concrete covering the steel reinforcement bars is so thin that the center will probably rust out in about 12.5 years, instead of the 50 years for which it was designed; and the center doesn’t meet fire standards.

Really, why does Silver Spring need an expensive, three-level transit center anyway? They could have fit everything they wanted in a ground-level, surface parking lot that would have cost far less than $112 million. This is simply another case of transit going for the high-cost solution to any problem.

Meanwhile, on the other side of DC, Arlington, Virginia–the same city that wants to spend $250 million on a 4.9-mile streetcar line–just finished installing a $1 million bus stop. Not surprisingly, construction took longer than expected.

Of course, not satisfied to spend a mere $1 million on a single bus stop, Arlington plans to build a total of 24 of these gold-plated bus stops. After all, why spend $5,000 on a shelter that protects customers from rain when you can spend a million dollars of other people’s money on a fancy bus stop whose “roof may not keep rain off the heads of those waiting”?

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5 thoughts on “Spending Millions on Transit; Getting Thousands in Value

  1. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Really, why does Silver Spring need an expensive, three-level transit center anyway? They could have fit everything they wanted in a ground-level, surface parking lot that would have cost far less than $112 million. This is simply another case of transit going for the high-cost solution to any problem.

    Montgomery County’s elected officials and its planning staff have long been obsessed with making Silver Spring a “transit hub.” But years before there was a Silver Spring Metrorail station (opened 1978), there was a Silver Spring bus station, which occupied three blocks at a location a few blocks from the present-day rail station (current Metro station and unopened transit center here, former bus station here (the site of the former bus station looks very different today)).

    Of course, not satisfied to spend a mere $1 million on a single bus stop, Arlington plans to build a total of 24 of these gold-plated bus stops. After all, why spend $5,000 on a shelter that protects customers from rain when you can spend a million dollars of other people’s money on a fancy bus stop whose “roof may not keep rain off the heads of those waiting”?

    It’s all justified thanks to the Columbia Pike Streetcar project. Never mind that this has long been one of the most-successful bus corridors in the region without transit technology that runs steel wheels on steel rails.

  2. OFP2003

    I don’t think people today know what “success” or “well-run” means. I guess the pendulum has swung all the way back from the “thrift” required during the depression. Flashy, Splashy, runs accross our culture in so many ways. Fancy-Spancy? Then it must be good. Boring but economical…. well, guess no one will be following you on Twitter, Facebook, and we won’t be seeing you on a reality TV show…

  3. rmsykes

    That firm’s report found that the pillars supporting the three-level center are inadequate to hold the buses that are supposed to use one of the levels; the concrete covering the steel reinforcement bars is so thin that the center will probably rust out in about 12.5 years, instead of the 50 years for which it was designed; and the center doesn’t meet fire standards.

    These are extremely serious design errors, and border on criminal negligence. My civil engineering specialty is environmental engineering, but I remember enough of my undergraduate training to know that an honest, competent structural engineer would not have made such errors. Expect civil suits, maybe criminal trials and loss of license. Or maybe prosecution for practicing without a license. This is one area where licensing makes sense.

    Of course, mere stupidity is always possible. Some years ago, Yale commissioned a new library, which had to be repurposed because the architect had not considered the floor loading of the books. In many modern libraries, like Ohio State’s main, the stacks are a separate structure from the surrounding building.

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    Washington Post editorial: Silver Spring’s bungled transit stop

    DOWNTOWN SILVER Spring’s transit center — a $112 million depot meant to anchor a revitalized urban hub in Montgomery County — is a sad saga of false starts, inflated plans, bureaucratic tension and now, it appears, bungled construction. When work began in 2008, the schedule envisioned the structure’s completion in late 2010. Now, after more than a dozen delays, it remains unfinished, unusable and probably unsafe, according to a consultant’s damning report.

    And this paragraph at the end.

    Meanwhile, the public has a right to ask whether the county exercised effective oversight of a project that remains critical to Silver Spring’s ongoing transformation from what was once a dead, crime-ridden place to a vibrant, citified neighborhood. For now, the transit center remains a unsightly six-acre construction site, inconveniencing thousands of people every day.

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