According to a traffic expert who testified at Monday night’s continuation of the Crossroads Town Center public hearing, the shopping development at the intersection of Routes 17, 287 and 87 would not generate too much additional traffic in Mahwah. Based on a study of the current traffic rates on Route 17 and a projection of how many cars will be coming into and out of the retail complex at its busiest times, traffic engineer Daniel Disario said he doesn’t “think the center will be as big of a draw as everyone thinks it will be.”
About 50 residents gathered Monday night to hear Disario’s comments on traffic at the controversial proposed complex.
“Almost 70 percent of the patrons to the Crossroads Town Center will come from five municipalities immediately surrounding the site,” Disario projected. His analysis concluded that most people visiting the 600,000-square-foot development designed to include shops, a movie theater, restaurants and two big box stores, would come from Mahwah, Suffern and Ramsey, with significant numbers of people also coming from Airmont and Monsey, NY.
Based on its proposed design, Disario testified that the CTC “would not have much of a regional draw.” The majority of shoppers, diners and movie-goers at the center would travel only 20-minutes or less to get there, he said. “There is a population of 196,000 people who live within 20 minutes of [Crossroads],” Disario said. “That is more than enough to support this type of center.”
The traffic engineer said he based his findings on a study of how much traffic currently passes through Route 17 during its most congested hours – between 4 and 6 p.m. Friday night, and between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. Disario said his office counted the number of cars that passed by locations near the proposed development during those hours on June 10 and 11 of last year. The engineer said he looked at data from the “peak hours of the peak season – a nice day in the summer.”
During the analysis conducted last summer, the engineer found that during one peak hour on a Friday night, 4,157 cars drive on Route 17 North, passing the exit ramp to Leisure Lane. During one of the peak hours on Saturday, about half that many – 2,154 cars – drove by. Cars driving on Route 17S showed the same pattern – with 2,029 driving by during one hour on a Friday afternoon, and 1,938 during an hour on Saturday.
Disario projected that the shopping center would generate an additional 925 cars going in and out of it during one hour on a Friday night, and 1,183 during one hour on a Saturday. This would include vehicles that are driving specifically to the Crossroads, and those that were already driving on Route 17, and stopped off at the Crossroads Town Center, he said.
Members of the board questioned Disario’s calculations. “With a 3,000-seat theater, restaurants, two big box stores and a bunch of other little shops, the numbers don’t seem to add up,” Planning Board Chair Todd Sherer told Disario Monday night.
The engineer said, however, that his estimate will “probably end up being more than the number of cars that actually go into and out of the site everyday,” because his calculation did not take into account people who are “already traveling on Mahwah’s roads to go to Paramus to shop. These people are going to continue coming the way they are now, they’ll just stop at this center instead of continuing down Route 17. I counted them as new trips, but in reality, these people are already on your roads,” Disario said.
According to his testimony, Disario projected that the center would draw about one-third of its shoppers from points north of Mahwah, and two-thirds from points south. “Even if I based my calculations on people coming from 30 or 40 minutes to get here [instead of 20], the numbers wouldn’t change that significantly, because the further north you go, the less population there is. And, there is less of a draw to come here because those people have shopping opportunities closer to them,” he said.
Disario also testified that the eventual tenants – which stores inhabit the spaces inside the development – will not significantly impact the amount of traffic drawn to the Crossroads. In response to questions from the board, Disario said he did not feel any one store would have a big enough regional draw to impact traffic more significantly than what he estimated. “Estimates are based on square-footage, not on the specific tenants." According to the Crossroads developer, no tenants have been secured for any of the stores or restaurants in the development.
Disario also said that from a traffic standpoint, a mall layout has an “advantage” over single, free-standing retailers, which is much of what lines route 17 in between Mahwah and Paramus. “With independent retailers, cars need to get back on the highway to go from store to store. Here, they can stay within the parking area,” he said.
The engineer concluded his presentation with a brief description of the proposed traffic improvements the developer would pay for outside the center to facilitate entrance into and exit from the Crossroads complex. Proposed improvements include reconfiguring the Moutainside Rd., Leisure Lane intersection, the elimination of the Leisure Lane access to the development, two new access roads and additional traffic lights. The complex would have three entrance points from Route 17N, but only one – via Mountainside Road – from 17S.
Board members and the public expressed concern that the one entrance on the south side would be an inconvenience, and possibly a safety hazard, for residents of Stag Hill Rd., who would need to sit in mall traffic and pass the entrance of the Crossroads Town Center to access their homes. “It does not make sense to me that a mall entrance should be the only access to a residential neighborhood,” Board member Jeremiah Crean said.
Though Disario said that the proposed roadway improvements could change based on collaboration with the state Department of Transportation and the township, he said that the findings of his traffic analysis “do not warrant building an additional overpass over Route 17.” The engineer argued that the proposed improvements would make for a “much safer intersection” than what is at Mountainside Rd. now.
The developer is required to spend $6M on traffic improvements, with a minimum of $3.6M for the township. The remaining $2.4M would be spent on DOT-required improvements.
Disario will return to Mahwah April 9 to continue his testimony in front of the planning board. His future appearances will include an analysis of traffic flow within the shopping center, as well as around it. A traffic engineer hired by the planning board will also question Disario's findings.