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Traffic study issues raised

October 15, 2010 12:35 am


Traffic predictions for a Walmart in the Wilderness battlefield area are gravely flawed, according to a new analysis by a transportation planner hired by plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to stop construction of the store.

Dane R. Ismart of Orlando, Fla., a retired Federal Highway Administration official with 40 years' experience, crunched the data in a consultant's traffic report for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and faults its major conclusions.

The retail center planned for eastern Orange County, anchored by a Walmart Supercenter, will cause more congestion, delays and safety hazards on State Routes 3 and 20 than predicted by Walmart's consultant, Ismart concluded.

Orange County Attorney Sharon Pandak declined to comment yesterday afternoon on the plaintiffs' most recent court filings, saying, "I'm not going try my case in the press."

Traffic is a major issue in opponents' lawsuit seeking to overturn Orange County's 2009 decision to permit the 240,000-square-foot retail center a quarter-mile north of Route 3, near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The plaintiffs are the local nonprofit Friends of Wilderness Battlefield and six nearby residents. Orange County, Walmart, the landowner and the developer are defendants in the lawsuit, which is scheduled for trial in January.

A summary of Ismart's testimony was released upon The Free Lance-Star's request to an attorney for the plaintiffs. The transportation expert, who teaches VDOT officials and local planners in Virginia, reported that:

The Walmart center will substantially increase Route 3 traffic turning left into Lake of the Woods, but the county didn't require improvements to receive that traffic as it enters the gated community. Two turn lanes, required by Orange, will have to merge into a single gate-controlled lane, causing traffic to back up to Route 3.

VDOT expressed concern about the problem, which Board of Supervisors Chairman Lee Frame asked the agency about in late July 2009, but the board didn't require the developer to address it.

Due to the development, congestion at the Route 3/Route 20 intersection will get worse, even with transportation improvements committed to by Walmart.

Walmart's traffic analysis for the intersection relies on a new road being built across the King family's adjoining land west of the retail center, yet the retailer's talks with the Kings terminated with no agreement on that access, Ismart's report says. The western entrance was supposed to handle both eastbound and westbound Route 3 traffic, easing pressure on the intersection and the eastern entrance into the development.

"Without the King Access Road, the traffic at the Route 3/20 intersection will create even greater congestion than predicted, yet the [traffic analysis] did not analyze that possibility or propose any mitigation measure to address it," Ismart wrote.

Neither Walmart's traffic analysis nor the conditions that Orange supervisors placed on the special-use permit for the big-box project addressed increased congestion resulting from the short right-turn lane on northbound Route 20. "This will be a problem with or without the King Access Road, but the absence of [the road] will exacerbate it," Ismart wrote.

The county didn't require Walmart to mitigate congestion from westbound vehicles on Route 3 turning left onto Route 20. Issues with Route 20 right of way and widening the Wilderness Run bridge could interfere with adding a "receiving" lane on Route 20 and a second turn lane on Route 3, as planned.

Walmart's analysis didn't consider the 51-acre development's impact on Route 20 traffic other than at its intersection with Route 3.

Ismart's analysis asserts that the retail center's traffic will slow and bunch vehicles on two-lane Route 20 south of Route 3, create problems for drivers turning left from Route 20, and possibly cause more accidents.

Widening Route 20 in the area is unlikely because the road passes through the Wilderness battlefield within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, and the National Park Service opposes enlarging it there, he wrote.

Ismart examined the project area in August and September, evaluated the study done by D.C.-based Gorove/Slade Associates Inc. for Walmart and the tract's developer, and reviewed documents the plaintiffs obtained from the county during the legal battle's discovery process, which continues.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029

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