New Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder said yesterday he plans to spend about $35 million to build as many as 7,000 additional parking spots at Redskins Stadium to "fix the problem" that caused massive tie-ups during Sunday's game.
Snyder, who took the Redskins' helm two months ago, said he is planning to negotiate the purchase of two parcels, totaling about 30 acres, immediately adjacent to the existing stadium lots. He cautioned that the new spaces would not be available this season.
"We're going to build what should have been built two years ago," he said.
A record crowd of 79,237 at Redskins Stadium for Sunday's game with the Dallas Cowboys confounded traffic plans that had worked adequately for the last two seasons. 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 deep into the first half of the game. It demonstrated the flimsiness of team forecasts for the proportion of fans who would take Metro shuttles or share rides. Moreover, stadium officials appeared unprepared to deal with thousands of motorists who attempted to make use of the stadium's limited number of spaces in cash lots, where parking passes are not required. Many drivers without permits appeared to ignore signs posted along the highway directing them to park at nearby off-site lots.
While some fans complained that they had been turned away from reserved lots even though they had passes, Snyder said there was "absolutely" enough parking for permit holders. He said that about 800 new permits for the Gold Lot were provided to new club-level ticket holders but that the lot should have been large enough to accommodate the increase.
Transportation and police officials have scheduled a meeting today with Redskins representatives to discuss what police said are "some major alternatives" for managing game-day traffic. Although state and local officials regularly meet with team representatives after each home game to examine any problems, Prince George's County Director of Public Safety Fred Thomas asked that the session be advanced to today so the traffic debacle could be addressed immediately.
"We're very much concerned about the number of vehicles that were not able to find proper parking at the stadium, and traffic is a very big issue for us," he said.
Officials will examine the performance of parking attendants. They also will receive a report from traffic engineers about the prospect for improving the procedure for detouring cars toward overflow lots at US Airways Arena and Landover Mall, Thomas said.
Officials yesterday attributed the bedlam in large part to the record turnout -- "a beautiful day, opening day, Dallas," as one Maryland State Police spokesman put it -- but said the crush was exacerbated by the vast number of fans arriving alone in cars.
"We didn't have enough making use of public transit and didn't have a sufficient number of folks car-pooling," Thomas said. He added that the meeting today also could yield a campaign of broadcast announcements urging fans to use Metro and car pools.
The Redskins had previously projected their attendance could approach the 80,000 mark, and team officials had been confident they could accommodate the traffic, based on projections made by their transportation consultant. Those projections estimated that 18 percent of the fans -- or about 14,150 -- would take mass transit.
But yesterday, only 5,480 fans -- a mere 7 percent of those attending the game -- used the $2 shuttle buses run by Metro between the stadium and the parking lots at the Addison Road, Landover and Cheverly stations. That was less than the highest shuttle ridership recorded for a Redskins game, 8,000 fans, which itself was well below the forecast levels.
The decision to build 22,000 parking spots at the stadium also was predicated on the assumption that each car would carry an average of three fans. State police and highway officials on the scene, however, reported that an unusually high number of vehicles were occupied only by the driver.
"It struck [the troopers] as odd," said state police spokesman Pete Piringer.
The gridlock was aggravated, officials said, when thousands of drivers without permits tried to park in stadium lots. Many apparently ignored directions on electronic signs to leave their cars in spaces at US Airways Arena on the opposite side of the Beltway and instead desperately clogged the roads around the stadium.
As early as 7:30 a.m., permanent electronic signs on the Beltway and portable signs on Routes 202 and 214 advised motorists to use exits 15A and 17A for cash parking lots at the arena rather than head toward the stadium, said Alvin Marquess, operations manager for the Maryland State Highway Administration. The same instructions were provided on the state's traveler advisory radio.
"People continued to keep on coming in. I don't know why," he said.
State officials said the Redskins parking attendants were swamped by the deluge of cars, left unsure where empty spots were located and unable to detour traffic back off the lot.
"You can't push a beach ball through a garden hose," said 1st Sgt. Kenneth Thrasher, of the state police. "You've got too many people at the same time, and they don't listen to what they're told."
As the flood crested, Thrasher and nearly a dozen other transportation, police and Redskins officials who were monitoring the situation from the stadium command post found themselves at a loss for how to regain control.
"We were wringing our hands. There was nothing we could do to solve this," he said.
Nor did the traffic leave the stadium any better, state police reported.
The Institute for Traffic Engineers says that one hour is an acceptable standard for nearly all fans to leave a stadium, but the Redskins and other experts conceded two years ago when the facility opened that it would take at least an hour and 20 minutes. On Sunday, three hours after the game ended in an overtime defeat for the Redskins, traffic was still tied up, police reported.
Traffic and parking became an exasperating problem when the Redskins moved to the new, larger stadium in 1997. Although not as congested as Sunday, opening day two years ago was so bad that the Redskins and state transportation officials scrambled to revise the traffic plan, ironing out the kinks over the next two games.
"It has been running marvelously till this game," Thrasher said.
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.
CAPTION: BUMPER TO BUMPER WITH THE REDSKINS (This graphic was not available)