State transportation officials will assess by next month whether planned road improvements around the Arundel Mills mall, now under construction in Hanover, will adequately accommodate the anticipated traffic.
Anne Arundel County traffic engineer Robert Tyson asked state officials earlier this month to review the traffic plans for the 400-acre mall site, expressing concern about expected rush-hour congestion at the key intersection providing access to and from what will be the Washington region's fourth-largest mall.
Tyson said that the traffic plans of mall developer Mills Corp. require review and verification by the Maryland State Highway Administration. State highway officials say that will take about a month.
The Mills Corp. obtained permits earlier this year to begin clearing the land and building the 1.4 million-square-foot mall. But it cannot obtain construction permits for its planned 1.2 million square feet of accompanying office and retail space on land surrounding the mall until the state approves the traffic study.
Although Tyson said he thought the local road network would be able to handle the influx of mall-bound vehicles, he said highway officials must review the traffic impact that the mall would have on the intersection of Route 100 and Ridge Road as well as a new interchange from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway leading into the mall.
A traffic study prepared for the developer by a Fairfax consulting firm estimated that vehicle traffic at the Route 100-Ridge Road intersection would reach or exceed the roads' capacity during peak hours--weekday evening rush hour and peak shopping hours on Saturday.
But careful timing of traffic signals could alleviate the congestion, according to the study by Wells & Associates, a Fairfax transportation consulting firm, which estimated that 76 percent of vehicles coming and going to Arundel Mills will pass through the intersection near its entrance.
Tyson said he agreed that may solve the congestion problem, but said state officials must make that determination.
Traffic planners measure intersection congestion by a statistic known as "critical lane volume"--the total number of cars that will make left-hand turns across oncoming traffic lanes in an hour. Traffic engineers say that any critical lane volume figure larger than 1,450 will produce significant delays and intersection failure.
The Wells study found that the critical lane volume for the Route 100-Ridge Road intersection would be 1,465 vehicles from 4 to 6 p.m. on weekday evenings and 1,433 on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"The numbers show that that intersection will be at the failure level" during weekday evening rush hour and close to failure on Saturday, Tyson said.
"The state needs to take another look at it [the intersection] and so do the Mills people," he said.
The Highway Administration is also expected to review whether the new interchange from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway into the mall will be able to accommodate the expected traffic volumes for the mall, as stated in the Wells plan.
Mills Corp. officials said the traffic review will not affect the scheduled opening of the 200-store mall in November 2000.
Mills Corp. must win state approval of its intersection traffic plan or receive a waiver from the county to obtain a construction permit to begin work on the mall's outlying properties.
Any waiver request would have to be reviewed and approved by the director of the county's Planning and Code Enforcement, according to spokesman John Morris.
The vice president and development director of Mills Corp., Dennis Connolly, said he was confident the state would approve its traffic plan, and he noted that the developer has plenty of time to address any traffic concerns from the state. "The earliest we would begin development of the outlying properties would be the middle of next year," he said. Mills Corp. envisions the outlying developments on the mall site will include offices, retail stores and a hotel.