The Constant Friendship shopping district in Abingdon turned into a constant backup Thursday, with hundreds of drivers trapped for several hours in a less-than-friendly traffic jam and overwhelming the county’s 911 call center.
The backup stretched along Constant Friendship Boulevard, from the Wal-Mart at the intersection with Tollgate Road, to Target and back toward BJ’s Wholesale Club. The traffic jam triggered a response from local law enforcement, including the Maryland State Police and Harford County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the State Highway Administration.
The area has been home to some of the county’s worst traffic in recent years as new businesses, such as Target, PetSmart, and Lowe’s, have opened their doors. The situation was made worse by the ongoing major construction at the Rt. 24 and Rt. 924 intersection, and the rush hour commute.
“I guess the combination of shopping, construction, and the commute made it kind of a mess,” said Lt. Charles Moore of the Maryland State Police’s Bel Air barracks.
However, frustrated drivers began calling 9-1-1, according to Harford County Emergency Operations Center Deputy Manager Rick Ayers, overwhelming the county’s call center. To try and stem the tide, the center issued a robo-call through its Connect-CTY mass notification system warning residents about the extreme congestion:
Good Evening. This is the Harford Co. Emergency Operations Center with an important message. We are experiencing heavy congested traffic on Rt. 24 and the Tollgate Rd. area. Please be patient and travel with caution if you are traveling through this area tonight. Thank you for your assistance and patience.
“The on-duty shift manager said it started in the early afternoon and continued for hours,” Ayers said. “When you get people calling like that, you don’t know what the situation is, you have to take the call.”
“Even though it [the robo-call about traffic congestion] is probably not an ideal way to use the system, yesterday was an extreme case,” Ayers added. “I don’t know that we’ve ever used it for that purpose.”
Moore said the worst of the backup lasted between two and four hours, with some drivers likely stuck in their cars for about two hours. He said the situation was handled by a coordinated response between the state police, sheriff’s office, and SHA, with officers directing traffic to attempt to clear vehicles from the area.
Moore said conditions improved as the evening went on and fewer motorists passed through the area.
“Once we came up with a strategy, it seemed to ease congestion,” he said. “And the time factor—as time went on, it removed the commuter traffic, which helped.”
Though the possibility of injuries to officers directing traffic and medical issues suffered by drivers stuck in their cars was a concern, Moore said no such incidents were reported.
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