Traffic jam traps some for hours at Harford mall lot

December 23, 2010|By Michael Dresser and John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun

A huge traffic jam that stranded hundreds of holiday shoppers Thursday near an Abingdon strip mall in Harford County took more than two hours to clear, according to state police.

The backup sparked a rash of complaints to area law enforcement and was the subject of calls to talk-radio programs in which some shoppers said they had been trapped on the lot for up to seven hours.

State police Cpl. John Krysiak said seven hours was "a bit of an exaggeration," but some drivers might have had to wait up to two hours before getting out.

"Everyone waited to go Christmas shopping at the last minute," Krysiak said. "I couldn't imagine being out there tonight."

State troopers and Harford County sheriff's deputies were summoned in the afternoon when motorists could not get out of the parking lot at Constant Friendship Shopping Center at Route 24 and Tollgate Road.

"It wasn't a safety issue," Krysiak said. "It was congestion."

Krysiak said police started to direct traffic to alleviate the jam but were called back after callers complained that the officers were making the problem worse. State police issued a statewide bulletin urging the public to stay away from the area. A message recording through the 911 system phoned local residents to inform them of the traffic.

Krysiak said police called the State Highway Administration to see whether it could change the timing on stop lights to ease the backup. A night duty worker at the SHA Operations Center in Hanover, who declined to give his name, said agency crews responded but determined that changing the lights would not have helped ease the problem.

"Anything we could have done there would have made things worse," he said. "There's just no physical remedy."

Krysiak said the backup was an apparent result of a road design flaw at the shopping center, which includes a BJ's Warehouse, a Wal-Mart, a Target and a Lowe's.

"There's only one way in and one way out. It's the way it was constructed," Krysiak said. "It's a mess, especially if you're at BJ's all the way in the back."

While traffic jams at the center have been a yearly occurrence around Christmas, Krysiak said this year is particularly bad.

"This is the first time I have seen anything like this in the 10 years I've worked here," he said. "They need to re-evaluate a new road going in and out of there."

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