In recent crossfire over a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter in Bel Air, Wal-Mart submitted final updates to its traffic mitigation plan, asserting that the plan meets Harford County requirements; and store opponents unveiled a professional second opinion indicating that traffic generated by the store has been underestimated and proposed traffic signals violate state guidelines.
Wal-Mart announced plans over one year ago to close its Abindgon store and build a new Supercenter on an undeveloped parcel zoned for business near the intersection of Plumtree Road and MD 924 in Bel Air. The Supercenter is proposed to include an automotive center, pharmacy with drive-thru, groceries (with a separate market entrance) and garden center. Hundreds of area residents have fought the store, saying the added traffic will overload already congested roadways, and create unsafe conditions.
Harford County requires developers to conduct a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA), outlining how they will mitigate the impact of additional traffic on intersections affected by their project. The TIA is among a number of required submissions that must be approved by the Department of Planning and Zoning in order for a development to proceed.
On Wal-Mart’s behalf, traffic engineering and transportation planning firm The Traffic Group, Inc. submitted on August 14th, responses to issues raised by the county about the company’s traffic mitigation plan. In a letter to Harford County Transportation Planner Alex Rawls, The Traffic Group Vice President Joseph Caloggero concluded that the overall plan, involving the expansion of area roads and new traffic signals, adequately addressed county requirements.
Pete Gutwald, Harford County director of planning and zoning said on Friday that The Traffic Group’s responses were under review and posted on the county Web site for the public.
The text of the August 14 letter from The Traffic Group appears below. New and/or noteworthy items include:
• Wal-Mart proposes new traffic signals at each of the following intersections: Bel Air South Parkway and Blue Spruce Drive; the planned intersection at Plumtree Road and Blue Spruce Drive; and the proposed site access point at MD 924 and Bright Oaks Drive. The signal at MD 924 and Bright Oaks Drive is proposed despite comments from the county that it did not appear to meet the criteria for distance from existing signals. The Traffic Group contends that levels of service and queuing at all of the above intersections would be at acceptable levels with new traffic signals. Traffic signals are subject to approval by the State Highway Administration.
• Wal-Mart proposes to add a northbound right turn lane on Tollgate Rd. to mitigate traffic at the intersection with Bel Air South Parkway. A roundabout had
previously been considered at this location.
• Conceptual plans submitted by The Traffic Group show that mitigation required by the county at other intersections is feasible, according to the company. However, The Traffic Group proposes to address specifics when it provides fully-engineered drawings following county approval of the site plan.
Contradicting key aspects of The Traffic Group’s overall traffic impact analysis, and echoing some issues also raised by the county department of planning and zoning, Century Engineering, Inc. of Hunt Valley issued a June 7th “Technical Memorandum” based on an analysis of The Traffic Group’s submissions on behalf of Wal-Mart and related communications with government agencies through May 24, 2013.
According to the Technical Memorandum from Century Engineering, Inc.:
• Traffic generated by the Wal-Mart Supercenter will be substantially greater than projected. Trip generation analysis provided to the county by The Traffic Group was based on the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) classification for a “Retail Store”, rather than a “Free-Standing Discount Superstore”, which is associated with increased trips. Additional studies addressing pass-by trips and peak-hour traffic generation rates have found that Supercenters, which combine general merchandise with a full grocery department, generate an average of 42% more traffic than the rate listed for Free-Standing Discount Superstores in the ITE Trip Generation Manual. The average Wal-Mart Supercenter generates nearly 10,000 car trips per day, and an average of 7 – 9 tractor-trailer deliveries per day, according to the memorandum.
• Proposed traffic signals surrounding the site are too close together, violating applicable spacing guidelines from the State Highway Administration of 1900 ft. In particular, the proposed signal at the site access point at MD 924 and Bright Oaks Drive is located 810 ft. north of an existing signal at MD 924 and Bel Air South Parkway, and 950 ft. south of an existing signal at MD 924 and Plumtree Rd.
According to a source that provided Century Engineering’s Technical Memorandum to The Dagger, the memorandum was also cited in a recent letter to the State Highway Administration from Harford County Councilman James “Capt’n Jim” McMahan, representing Bel Air.
McMahan acknowledged sending the letter dated August 2nd, and another to the county planning and zoning department. “I wanted to make sure all the information is available to the people charged with the responsibility of making the decision on this matter…My aim is not to single out Wal-Mart but to make sure the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, whoever will be developing something like this.” McMahan said his letter also advised SHA about increased vehicular and pedestrian traffic anticipated in the area resulting from cutbacks in school bus transportation for the upcoming school year. A copy of McMahan’s letter appears below.
McMahan said he received the Technical Memorandum, produced by what he believes is an independent and reputable engineering firm, from Baltimore attorney Cynthia Leppert. McMahan said that Leppert contacted him saying she represented business people and community members who had engaged Century Engineering to do the analysis, and she knew that constituents in McMahan’s district had voiced opposition to the project. McMahan referred further questions about the group to Leppert, who did not return calls on Friday.
Below is the August 14 submission from The Traffic Group, Inc. to Harford County Transportation Planner Alex Rawls:
Below is the August 2nd letter from Councilman McMahan to the State Highway Administration: