Road work for Laurel stadium raises concern

May 22, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

The road improvements necessary to get traffic to and from a proposed National Football League stadium in Laurel cannot be built in time for the opening of the Washington Redskins' 1996 season, some planners say.

"Our biggest concern . . . is can the improvements be physically put on the ground in time for Opening Day?" said John N. Hummel of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission.

Mr. Hummel, a transportation planner, is one of two planners who wrote to the Montgomery County Planning Board May 3 with concerns about the project. Their memo was forwarded to Anne Arundel County planners studying the team's application for a zoning exception to build the 78,600-seat stadium.

"There is considerable concern on the part of the jurisdictional staffs and the State Highway Administration that the timing of improvements cannot correlate with either a 1996 or 1997 opening," the memo said. "Even if all parties agreed today on the design details of the intersection improvements, it is questionable if they could all be constructed by the fall of 1997."

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke still plans to open the 1996 season in the stadium next to Laurel Race Course in Anne Arundel County, said Walter Lynch, stadium project manager.

Mr. Hummel said it will take two to three years to make the road improvements once planners decide what is needed. It could take even longer if government agencies get bogged down in legal battles over acquiring rights of way or in getting permits to build in environmentally sensitive areas.

The Redskins have not said what road improvements they think are needed, what their cost will be or who should pay for them. A study of regional road improvements needed by the stadium is )) weeks from completion, Mr. Lynch said. State estimates of the cost of improvements ranged as high as $186 million.

Mr. Lynch said this month that the team hopes $40 million to $50 million will be raised through county bonds to pay for water, sewer and road improvements. The county would recoup the money from taxes generated by the stadium, he said.

Neil Pedersen, director of project planning for the State Highway Administration, said the time needed for road improvements will depend in part on who takes responsibility for funding, design and construction.

If the Redskins took the responsibility, he said, they could finish some improvements for the 1996 football season.

"If it's all developer money, it could be done by 1996," said Ron Burns, transportation planning supervisor with the Park and Planning Commission.

But he worried what would happen if the stadium opened before road improvements were finished.

"That is a grave concern," he says. "On the day it opens, all the traffic's going to be there, 100 percent of it."

The Redskins' lease at RFK Stadium in Washington expires after the 1995-1996 season, Mr. Lynch said.

But he dismissed as "hypothetical" questions about what the team would do if its new home was not ready by then.

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