Local emergency responders aren’t expecting a repeat of the massive traffic jam at the intersection of Route 924 and Route 24 which trapped some drivers in shopping center lots for hours last year, but still urged drivers to have patience and seek alternate routes heading into the Christmas holiday.
Construction on the new interchange was completed months ago, but the redesigned traffic pattern will face a major test in the next two days. Last year, while work was ongoing, gridlock caused a major snarl which lasted several hours, choking off traffic along Constant Friendship Boulevard and spilling into shopping center parking lots.
Frustrated drivers overwhelmed the county’s 911 call center, prompting emergency officials to put out a robo-call telling drivers to avoid the area while state police worked to get traffic flowing again.
A repeat nightmare isn’t expected this year, according to Lt. Chuck Moore of the Maryland State Police Bel Air Barrack.
“We kind of used Black Friday as a gauge to measure heavy traffic’s impact on that area,” Moore said in an e-mail to The Dagger. “Everything went pretty smoothly, however, we will continue to monitor the area closely and we will be prepared to call out the calvary should the need arise.”
Moore said he had consulted with State Highway Administration Transportation Engineers, who expected traffic to flow more smoothly in the area but cautioned drivers to, not surprisingly, expect some delays on the roads around Harford Mall.
Rich Gardiner, spokesman for the Harford County Volunteer Fire and EMS Association, said he also expected things to improve from last year.
“I believe it [the new pattern] managed the Thanksgiving shopping activity very well from what I saw, however time will tell for the next 96 hours,” Gardiner said. “I think my concern falls more toward the entire [Route 24] corridor, especially in the area of the town of Bel Air. It becomes extremely congested and this could prove tough for fire and EMS travels, and it seems as if it isn’t just the holiday season any longer, more of a commonplace occurrence.”
Nonetheless, Moore said drivers not looking to finish their shopping or sit in traffic should try to avoid the Constant Friendship intersection.
“It may be a good idea for commuters, who are not interested in shopping, to consider alternate routes around the area during the next couple of days, in case there are backups,” he said. “When the roadways are congested, motorists need to be patient and we will do our best to alleviate the congestion.”