Residents, Redskins collide over traffic prospects

December 18, 1993|By Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn | Peter Hermann and Ivan Penn,Staff Writers

Washington Redskins officials say the roads leading to the site of their proposed stadium in Laurel can handle the expected 20,000 carloads of fans on game days. But nearby residents aren't buying it.

"The traffic would be horrible," said Laura Waters, president of the Citizens Against the Stadium II. "It's very congested already. Route 1 is pretty much a parking lot on weekends."

Walter Lynch, the stadium project manager, said that the biggest traffic problems will come at the end of games and that he has a solution for that.

"We can configure each parking lot to go out a different way so that we have people out of the stadium and off your streets in one hour," Mr. Lynch told Maryland City residents Thursday. "Football is not played during rush hour."

The issues of roads and sewers have dominated the debate over a stadium in Laurel now that it appears Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Redskins, is serious about moving his team out of the nation's capital.

Anne Arundel County officials say the sewer lines in the area can handle the waste from the new stadium, but traffic engineers have yet to determine how an estimated 20,000 cars filled with ticket-holders would affect traffic.

State and Redskins officials have offered widely varying figures for improving the roads. The team says the cost would be no more than $36 million; the state's estimate is $50 million to $150 million.

The Redskins have completed a preliminary traffic study but won't release it or discuss it publicly. They say a final report could be finished within 60 days.

Meanwhile, local and state governments and the Redskins are haggling over who will conduct a detailed impact and environmental study of the area.

Mr. Lynch said team officials think most of the traffic would come from Washington and its suburbs to the 55-acre site at Brock Bridge and Whiskey Bottom roads for games and other events.

He said most would use Interstate 95, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and U.S. 1 as the main north-south routes to the stadium.

At 56,500-seat Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, Mr. Lynch said, 12,500 cars use the parking lots. At an average of about three people per car, that accounts for 63 percent of the ticket-holders. An additional 22 percent use the Metro, 8 percent come on charter buses and 7 percent walk.

Martin Wells, Mr. Cooke's traffic engineer, said he would expect traffic approaching the the proposed 78,600-seat Laurel stadium be evenly distributed on the east and west sides.

"This was not a casual decision in terms of transportation," Mr. Wells said. "We studied a number of sites. This is the best in terms of traffic access."

Detractors, however, say many of the roads near the stadium are only two lanes wide and would need substantial widening to handle the increased traffic.

Anne Arundel County officials point to Route 198, which goes through the heart of Laurel between I-95 and the stadium, as one potential problem. The road is three lanes wide in most places, but the lanes pass within a few feet of houses along some stretches east of I-95.

Herbert J. Belgrad, head of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said Route 198 from the parkway to Laurel and Brock Bridge Road from the parkway to Route 32 would have to be widened at a cost of more than $60 million.

He said that if Mr. Cooke is willing to pay all the costs above his estimate of $36 million, "it'll be the best deal around."

Mr. Lynch thinks that most of the roads are adequate.

The State Highway Administration says I-95 handles handles an average of 99,200 cars a day at the Route 198 interchange, 91,300 at the Route 216 interchange and 57,125 at the Route 32 interchange. The parkway at Route 198 carries 70,700 cars a day, the SHA says.

The proposed site "has . . . road systems," Mr. Lynch said. "It is close to the parkway and I-95. That is the bottom line. It had the least impact on the community without having to build all new roads. It's got great infrastructure."

Mr. Lynch would not comment on whether he thought the state was inflating the costs of road improvements to stall construction.

"All I can say is that our engineers will sit down with their engineers and work it out," he said.

He said the money the state and county receive from the builder to offset burdens of development could be used to pay for upgrading roads. "We aren't looking for the taxpayers to pick these things up," he said.

While the traffic problems are being debated, the issue of sewer capacity apparently is settled.

The builders of Russett, a 3,000-home community under construction at Route 198 and the parkway, built a 2.5-million-gallon-a-day sewage treatment plant in the late 1980s and turned it over to Anne Arundel County in exchange for use of half the plant's capacity.

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Utilities, said 400,000 gallons of that capacity is available.

The Redskins have no figures on the amount of sewage a new stadium would generate, but Bob Downey, the stadium manager for RFK, said 263,000 gallons of water and wastewater are pumped out of that stadium on game days.

Mr. Lynch said sewer capacity was "the first thing we looked at" in choosing a site.

Ms. Ritter said the county might ask the Redskins to build a holding tank to collect the wastewater so that it could be discharged into the county system gradually. That is the way it is handled at RFK now.

"We don't want all the waste flowing in when everybody flushes at halftime," she said.

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