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Prime Outlets opening snarls traffic

August 08, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE and GUY FLETCHER

Despite road improvements, police directing vehicles and other precautions, Friday's grand opening of the Prime Outlets at Hagerstown had its share of frustrated motorists and traffic jams.

For two hours around the time of the 11 a.m. grand opening police had to direct traffic in and out of the center's main entrance off Md. 65, said Cpl. Daryl Sanders of the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Traffic backed up onto nearby Interstate 70 and for about a mile south on Md. 65, Sanders said.

Even the East Oak Ridge Drive entrance used by local shoppers was swamped for a time, he said.

"In the afternoon it was pretty manageable," he said, although he warned drivers to use caution because of the new traffic patterns there.

Road improvements made prior to the mall's opening included the widening of the off-ramp from westbound I-70 that takes motorists onto Md. 65. A turning lane was added on Md. 65 as well as on Oak Ridge Drive, which many area residents will likely use to enter the center.

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"That made it really convenient for us," said Steve Horine, 42, a Greencastle, Pa., resident who used the Oak Ridge Drive entrance to easily enter the center Friday morning.

Prime Retail, the owner of the center, also arranged for Washington County sheriff's deputies and State Highway Administration personnel to be on hand Friday to handle the anticipated heavy flow of traffic coming from an anticipated 50,000 visitors to the center this weekend.

But the flow of shoppers was so heavy that traffic started backing up onto Md. 65 and Oak Ridge Drive by late morning, according to several shoppers. Meanwhile, the 1,800-space parking lot quickly filled.

Richard Dayhoff, 65, of Smithsburg, said he and his wife made one failed attempt at finding a space before leaving and coming back a short while later.

"We kept going around in circles," said Rachel Dayhoff, 60.

Some people got creative in their search for a coveted parking space.

"I had to park my Jeep out in the field," said Stephen Paugh, 21, of Sharpsburg.

Kathy Henson, 37, a Hagerstown resident, said she used a time-honored strategy, commonly employed during the holidays, of finding a parking space in a crowded lot.

"I waited for people to go to their cars and I followed them," she said.

"I think people coming to something like this expect there to be more traffic than usual," said Prime Retail spokesman Brian Lewbart.

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