Washington Redskins officials and police vowed yesterday to ease traffic congestion at Redskins Stadium for the next home game Oct. 3, but offered no concrete solutions after meeting behind closed doors for two hours and acknowledged they cannot build new parking spaces this season.
Team officials, Prince George's County and state police, state highway officials, Metro representatives and others met in Landover to discuss ways to prevent a recurrence of the gridlock that took place Sunday when the Redskins drew a record 79,237 fans for their season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
"This should not have happened, and we will not experience this again," said Prince George's police spokesman Royce Holloway, who attended the meeting. "This is the largest number of fans we've ever had. Were we ready for it? Apparently not. But we will be ready for it the next time. . . . Fans can expect to see an improvement. They will not have to sit in traffic when they should be inside watching the game."
About 30,000 motorists battled for the 22,000 spots at the stadium, officials said. The crush, which backed up Capital Beltway traffic as far as Wisconsin Avenue, 20 miles away, left thousands of fans scavenging for parking well into the first half of the game. Some fans gave up and went home.
Team owner Daniel M. Snyder said Monday that he plans to spend about $35 million to buy 30 acres and build up to 7,000 additional parking spots. But they will not be available this year. Snyder would need approval from the Prince George's County Council to build new spaces or to adjust traffic patterns on roads.
Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro) said Snyder has not met with council leaders since buying the team two months ago. But County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D), who did not attend the meeting yesterday, said he supports Snyder's plans for more parking lots.
"It seems to me that's something constructive to do," Curry said.
Although officials declined to disclose specific proposals discussed yesterday, some county leaders said possible solutions include rerouting traffic flow into the stadium lots, reorganizing the lots, making public service announcements encouraging people to use mass transportation, beginning a shuttle service from nearby US Airways Arena and enhancing existing road signs to better direct drivers.
Officials will meet again Tuesday to continue their discussions and perhaps announce specific changes, Holloway said.
"There's a way to fix this, and that's what we're exploring right now," he said. "We haven't come up with the answers yet . . . but there is a solution. How drastic, we don't know yet."
Holloway said officials also will evaluate whether team parking lot attendants and police were communicating well enough with one another once the lots became full and whether both groups are properly trained to redirect overflow traffic to lots at US Airways Arena.
Many fans complained that they were told to keep circling the stadium for more than an hour before being sent to the arena. Others said they had prepaid parking passes but were turned away from the stadium lots.
"I believe that did happen to some," Holloway said. "We're going to look at that."
Alvin Marquess, operations manager for the State Highway Administration, said officials will have specific contingency plans in case traffic for the Oct. 3 game becomes unmanageable.
But Prince George's County Council member Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville) said even the best contingency plan will not solve all the traffic problems.
When it approved the stadium deal, the County Council granted the Redskins a waiver to build smaller parking spaces than the law permitted--perhaps contributing to the cramped conditions each Sunday. Meanwhile, Redskins officials severely overestimated the number of people who would ride the Metro or car-pool.
"I think a lot of people coming over here are going to have to get used to the idea that a Redskins game means gridlock as much as it means missed field goals," Maloney said. "If we are going to put 10 quarts of jelly in a five-quart jar, something's going to spill."
Redskins Stadium, which has had parking problems since its opening in 1997, isn't alone in such traffic difficulties. City-based stadiums have fewer problems, experts say, because there is more mass transit.
Suburban-based sites like Redskins Stadium, in particular, have problems because fans generally believe the easiest way to get there is by car. New York Giants officials report tie-ups at 73,000-seat Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., despite having 25,000 parking spaces, the most in the league.
But John Samerjan, who oversees the Giants' operation, said traffic flow has improved as fans have learned to leave home earlier.
"Fans are creatures of habit," he said. "They get used to it."
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.