The State Highway Administration has denied Wal-Mart’s requested access on MD 924 for the main entrance to its proposed Supercenter in Bel Air, saying the access would not benefit the overall roadway network and citing “ample opportunity” for access via county roads. Community opposition to the store has focused on concerns about traffic congestion in the area.
Wal-Mart sought access to state road MD 924 and permission to install a new traffic signal at the intersection with Bright Oaks Drive, which SHA also denied. The decision from SHA is final and cannot be appealed, SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said in an email Tuesday.
Outlining the SHA decision in a September 30th letter to the Harford County Department of Planning & Zoning, SHA division Chief Stephen D. Foster wrote:
“The SHA reviewed [sic] determined that a MD 924 access would not be granted for the development. The basis for the decision is that the County roadways provide ample opportunity for access to the local roadway network with appropriate roadway improvements on the County and State roadways to mitigate development-generated traffic impacts. While the developer may desire an access on MD 924 to improve marketability, the addition of a MD 924 access does not provide a substantial transportation benefit to the overall roadway network.”
The SHA letter goes on to question whether the necessary roadway improvements proposed by Wal-Mart are feasible, requesting more detailed engineering plans from the company, and suggesting that the development may have to be modified:
“If any improvements are not feasible, the SHA may request that the County require the developer to revise the roadway improvements to address the traffic impacts and/or, if necessary, modify the development to reduce traffic impacts.”
In response to questions from The Dagger, Wal-Mart spokesperson Amanda Henneberg issued the following statement indicating that the SHA decision would not derail plans to build the super store:
“We have a strong interest in making sure that traffic flows smoothly and it’s convenient for customers to shop with us. We work closely with communities to ensure that visiting our store is as easy as possible. The State Highway Administration’s analysis provided that with traffic improvements that will be the case for our store in Bel Air. We look forward to providing the community with even more convenient shopping options that include both affordable food and a wide assortment of general merchandise.”
Asked specifically whether Wal-Mart was dropping its request for access to MD 924 and now plans site access only from county roads Blue Spruce Drive and Plumtree Road, Henneberg responded:
“That determination hasn’t been made at this time, and we are still working with the County and the State to provide the best and safest access for our customers.”
Controversy has surrounded the proposed Bel Air development since Wal-Mart first announced plans to close its Abingdon store and build a Supercenter on land zoned for business along MD 924 south of Plumtree Road. 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 opposed the new store, with roadside rallies and pleas to government officials, arguing that the added traffic would overload already congested roadways.
Dated one year later almost to the day, the September 30th SHA letter appears below: