Much bigger Costco Distribution Center, many more trucks, same old roads and railroad bridge

On Wednesday, December 10th, the Frederick County Planning Commission will review final site plans for a major expansion of the Costco Distribution Center near the intersection of MD75 and Interstate 70. The preliminary site plan was approved in 2001 and now, thirteen years later, the Planning Commission will have the final say on a plan to nearly triple the size of the facility.



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Let me first say that commercial growth can be positive. It brings jobs and revenues to the County. These are good things. In this case, the expansion will reportedly generate another two hundred jobs at the site.

Unlike residential growth, this type of development doesn’t require the same level of spending by the county to provide needed services. For example, unlike Monrovia Town Center, Costco won’t generate school-age children that would require schools and teachers.

 But that doesn’t mean that there would be no impact from this development.

stucktruck260x175In this case, there is a very specific and significant impact on MD 75. All residents in the area all know that the level of truck traffic on MD 75 has increased dramatically since the Costco facility opened.

We also know what that means for residents and drivers along the portion of MD 75 between MD 80 and I-70. Trucks get stuck under the railroad bridge, often. Traffic can be stopped for long periods of time, forcing drivers to make long detours. And property has been damaged as trucks attempted to turn around. 

That’s part of the backdrop for this expansion of the Costco facility.

Based on how this site plan was first approved back in 2001, Costco will pay nothing toward the MD 75 Corridor Improvement Program. Let me repeat that – Costco will pay nothing toward MD 75. You may ask why? Well, under the current methodology, the road requirements of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) are guided by numbers of trips from the previously assumed mix of development in the area near MD 75 and I-70. Costco won’t generate many trips, so they aren’t required to pay anything toward their road impacts.

This is a flawed methodology. It only takes one errant truck trip to significantly impact MD 75, and there have been many.

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Back in 2001, when the Costco was first approved in Monrovia, the business assured the county that they would not generate any traffic on the portion of MD 75 south of Baldwin Road. Nope. Not us. Won’t happen. The Planning Commission believed them, and did not require any study of their impact on the road, nor any mitigation. 


So here we are thirteen years later and everyone knows those assurances were wrong. Truck traffic to and from Costco uses the road. Those trucks cause heavy wear & tear on the pavement. They damage private property attempting to turn around in areas of limited access. They get stuck far too often and they cause many delays for area drivers. However, based on that mistaken judgment thirteen years ago, they continue to be exempt from contributing to MD 75 improvements.

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Instead, the discussion is about more signs – as if those have been working – and turn-around areas. Thus far, Costco has not even agreed to help with those relatively minor improvements. And by the sound of it, it may be voluntary.

I don’t oppose commercial development in the area but it needs to be done smartly. It needs to be balanced. And we need these developments to help mitigate the problems they create. I think there are other and better options to evaluate. At a minimum, these options should include penalizing Costco for mistakes by drivers using their facility. They could also include mandating a payment to the MD 75 Corridor Improvement Program. Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option.

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One last thought: These developments along MD 75 – including Landsdale, Monrovia Town Center, and Costco – are creating a vexing problem that will impact the region for decades to come. As these developments go forward, they will create an ever worsening safety problem on the road, ending in a traffic log jam at the terminus in Hyattstown. If by chance they find the funding to upgrade the road – which the County estimates as high as $500 million – that will be our tax dollars paying to provide the infrastructure necessitated by these developments.

To make this happen, land will be taken from up to two hundred residents along on the road – they have property rights, too. And in the end, we’ll wind up with a high-speed bypass for even more truck traffic trying to avoid the highway interchanges in Frederick. In my opinion, there is simply no good solution for MD 75 given the developments approved and under consideration. Let’s hope that on Wednesday, the Planning Commission takes these factors into consideration as they decide the merits of the proposed Costco expansion. 


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This matter really ought to go to the county council, but I’m not sure that will happen in the current process. If you want to express your opinion on the subject, I encourage you to write to our new Council representatives and the Planning Commission:



To send one email to all members of the Frederick County Planning Commission: planningcommission@frederickcountymd.gov



To send individual emails to the members of the Frederick County Council:

President Bud Otis: 
botis@frederickcountymd.gov

Vice President MC Keegan-Ayer: 

mckeeganayer@frederickcountymd.gov
Billy Shreve: billy@frederickcountymd.gov


Jerry Donald: 

jdonald@frederickcountymd.gov
Tony Chmelik: tchmelik@frederickcountymd.gov


Jessica Fitzwater: 

jfitzwater@frederickcountymd.gov

Kirby Delauter: kdelauter1@frederickcountymd.gov



Here’s an excerpt from the Staff report linked below:



Continuing Community Impacts



Since the initial opening of the Costco Warehouse, the neighborhood has been continuously impacted by Costco vender trucks illegally parking and causing closures to MD 75 when trucks either get stuck under or back up from the CSX bridge. This has caused a burden to the welfare of the motoring public who travel along MD 75 when trucks frequently cause a shutdown of the road. It also impacts the Sheriff’s Department staff and state troopers who are called to cite and help remedy the situation.

The problem of trucks arriving early and waiting overnight in the vicinity has largely been remedied by Costco’s proactive decision to waive early arriving trucks onto its sight. The same is true, to some extent, for trucks leaving the Costco site. However, trucks generally park along Intercoastal Drive legally when exiting the Site if the drivers are beyond the requisite federally mandated driving hours. 



The Applicant has agreed to work with the State Highway Administration (SHA) and the County to provide additional and very visible overhead signs in an attempt to persuade trucks that will not fit under the CSX Bridge over MD 75, not to make the attempt before they turn onto Green Valley Road. As many of the truck drivers just do not read the sign, the expectation among professionals is that the disruptions would only be lessened.

The best solution to preventing trucks from being stuck under the CSX Bridge, or having to back up to avoid being stuck, is to provide two truck turnaround areas on both sides of the bridge. This solution has been studied by SHA and the Applicant has been asked to consider partnering with SHA to help accomplish this much needed improvement, but to date the Applicant has not agreed to help with this improvement.


Staff report for Wednesday’s hearing.

Frederick News Post
Editorial
Costco expansion means repeated history with Md. 75 bridge jams
Saturday, December 6, 2014

EXCERPT: This is our third editorial on this topic in the past 13 months. The way we look at it, somebody has to start paying for this chaos. Either Costco needs to take some responsibility and pay for pull-off areas, or the truck drivers should be slapped with mind-numbing fines — say, $2,500 per incident — so they get the message.

What needs to stop is wasting taxpayer money sending police to the area every time an ignorant truck driver blows past the $300,000 worth of warning signs. We feel sorry for all the local residents who have to sit in their vehicles and wait while the tractor-trailers are backed up and turned around.

We’ve been watching this same script play out for years now. It’s time something is done before this frustrating time loop kicks off yet again.

Frederick News Post
County to consider Costco warehouse expansion in Monrovia
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
By Bethany Rodgers

EXCERPT: However, some say the increased flow of 18-wheelers and FedEx trucks going to and from the new Intercoastal Drive facility will mean more trucks getting wedged under the low-clearance railroad overpass on Md. 75.

So far in 2014, the Maryland State Highway Administration has counted 42 occasions when tractor-trailers have gotten stuck near the CSX bridge. Most of the time, the trouble arises as truckers struggle to reverse course on the narrow road after realizing they can’t fit beneath the 12-foot-6-inch overpass. On occasion, tractor-trailers actually strike the bridge and become wedged underneath, said Dave Buck, SHA spokesman.

The project is exempt from requirements to make off-site road improvements, although the developers have volunteered to post a couple of warning signs near the CSX bridge. SHA officials want the developer to help build pull-off areas on either side of the bridge so truckers can turn around without backing into private property. However, the developer so far has not agreed to make the improvement and is not legally required to do so, said Ron Burns, the county’s engineering supervisor for traffic and transportation.

WFMD
Costco Expansion Plans Raise Concerns
Wednesday, December 3rd 2014
by Kevin McManus

EXCERPT: McKay says under the site plan, Costco will pay nothing for upgrades to Route 75 to handle this increased truck traffic. He says the current methodology under the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance requirements are guided by the number of trips. “I think that exposes a flaw in the methodology, either that we’re using now, or was used in 2001,” he says. Costco’s original preliminary site plan for its distribution center was approved in 2001.

McKay thinks Costco should contribute toward road improvements on Route 75. “They should have some responsibility for when truck drivers that are coming from or going to their facility themselves get stuck on 75. Right now, it’s a $500 fine for the driver. But I think Costco should have a part in that,” he says.

The fact that the hearing is scheduled for the daytime hours may not bring out a lot of citizens to testify, says McKay, because most people are at work at that time. But he hopes a number of citizens will show up to provide testimony to the Planning Commission.

WTOP
Costco seeks to expand Frederick County warehouse
Wednesday, December 3, 2014

EXCERPT: The county staff is recommending approval with certain conditions. One condition would require Costco to work with the State Highway Administration on additional signage warning of a low-clearance railroad overpass on Route 75 where tractor-trailers have become stuck in the past.