As if we needed more evidence that Forest Drive is already beyond capacity, a new county traffic report shows that two of the major intersections along the roadway are currently operating at a “D” level of service on an A-F scale during peak hours. A previous analysis prepared for the City of Annapolis in 2014 noted that all the main intersections along Forest Drive were at a “C” or better level of service, and that they would not cross over to a “D” or worse until after new developments were built. However, according to the new report, we are already there. Annapolis does not permit new developments to push levels of service beyond a “D,” but it remains to be seen if the City will consult this report as it considers pending developments, including Crystal Spring.
The March 2016 Anne Arundel County Existing Conditions Report, which used data collected from 2011-2013 to assess existing conditions on key roads throughout the county, confirms that the key Forest Drive intersections at Spa Road and Bay Ridge/Hillsmere Drive have already deteriorated to a “D” level of service. Essentially, these intersections are already beyond capacity with no new development. But this result should not be surprising considering Anne Arundel County warned the City as early as 2011 that the Forest Drive “corridor is on the edge of capacity, and we would hope that approval of new developments wouldn’t be given if it is likely that they will force Forest Drive into over-capacity operations.”
Moreover, this new report highlights the current safety risks on the critical gateway onto Forest Drive, MD 665. Looking at 2011-2013 crash statistics, the report concludes that accident rates on MD 665 “are significantly higher than the statewide average” for a similar roadway. Crash rates are 22 percent higher, and property damage is 31 percent higher. Since traffic volumes have only continued to grow on this restricted roadway since the data was collected, one can only assume these figures have only gotten worse. Regardless, the City of Annapolis is supporting the proposal of a developer to install a new entrance onto MD 665 for the Rocky Gorge development, a new neighborhood of approximately 50 residences. This traffic will merge onto MD 665 just before the already crowded intersection at Chinquapin Round Road.
In fact, despite the confirmation that these roadways are already overburdened and dangerous, the County and the City have several developments either planned for or under construction along the MD 665/Forest Drive corridor that will cause a rapid increase in traffic volumes. These 18 planned developments will add more than 1,270 new housing units and 232,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Crystal Spring is by far the largest and will add nearly 500 housing units and over 170,000 sq. ft. of commercial and retail space. It is located in the immediate vicinity of the Forest Drive/Spa Road intersection, one of the two that are currently over capacity according to the new report.
The findings of the March 2016 Existing Conditions Report only provide further evidence that the City is in dire need of a more in-depth traffic study to look at how the corridor will be impacted by these developments. A draft simulation study completed for the City in 2014 looked at expected conditions along Forest Drive if only a portion of the planned developments were constructed. Even though the 2014 study used the most unrealistic and developer-favorable assumptions, such as old traffic counts and escalation of traffic at only 1% (Crystal Spring alone would be a 2.3% population increase in the City of Annapolis), it still predicted that many of the major intersections would eventually reach failing or near-failing levels of service. The new report shows that we have already reached these levels of service at two of the major intersections without any new development.
While the findings of the March 2016 report are significant, it remains to be seen whether our officials will actually step up and take action to prevent a bad situation from continuing to get worse. It’s been clear for some time that there is already a capacity issue and serious safety concerns on the MD 665/Forest Drive Corridor. Anyone who was stuck in one of the many recent traffic debacles can tell you that there is already a serious problem. Nonetheless, it seems City officials live in complete denial of the problem as they continue to approve new developments that will feed into this corridor. There is no strategy to assess potential roadway improvements, much less a plan to have them paid for by developers as opposed to taxpayers.
Traffic along the Forest Drive corridor is not only an inconvenience, but a serious threat to property values, quality of life, and most of all, public safety. At the very least, an in-depth traffic study on expected conditions with new development needs to be performed as promised by the City. This should be done with public input and involvement by an independent firm using realistic assumptions, not by consultants who work mainly for developers and are more likely to use assumptions that favor development. Until the City has an understanding of how new development will affect traffic conditions, and how the necessary roadway improvements will be implemented before any new development, they should not be approving new development and further exacerbating the problem.