FORT WASHINGTON – Up to 9,000 cars a day could travel to MGM National Harbor resort and casino during its opening weeks, and county officials want the community to know they have a plan to handle it. Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) Chief Hank Stawinski, along with Mark Moore, head of security services for […]
FORT WASHINGTON – Up to 9,000 cars a day could travel to MGM National Harbor resort and casino during its opening weeks, and county officials want the community to know they have a plan to handle it.
Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) Chief Hank Stawinski, along with Mark Moore, head of security services for MGM, and several county government officials hosted a community meeting Oct.12 to unveil the traffic management plan for MGM’s opening on Dec. 8 and 30 to 45 days afterward.
Stawinski said the plan was the result of more than two years of work by county police and fire personnel, the Maryland State Highway Administration, Virginia police, MGM staff, traffic engineers and several county departments. And, while he is “very confident” PGPD is prepared, he said traffic will be heavy.
“There will be congestion. Traffic will not always flow at the posted speed limit. And so the question isn’t, will we be able to travel the same way we traveled every day? The question is, how do we best manage that so we have the least impact,” he said.
The plan features four main routes onto the MGM property and three levels of police deployment, depending on need. Visitors from the north will be routed off of 495 onto Bald Eagle Road, across the Beltway flyover and then to the casino. From the west, cars will be directed from 295 to the flyover ramp, circle around and enter the MGM property from the east. Drivers coming over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from Virginia will be routed to either Exit 2A or 3A, depending on traffic volume. And, from 210, drivers will go over the flyover to loop into the property.
Stawinski said those roads were chosen with residents in mind.
“We’ve chosen these routes particularly because they allow us to stack traffic in a way that least impacts the community. One of the things we wanted to do was least impact the community,” he said.
To keep things moving, PGPD will have officers stationed at intersections in the area to actively manage traffic. The three deployment levels, A, B and C, will have between two and 10 stations with between two and six officers each, while Maryland State Police will control an additional one to three areas. Stawinski said having officers on the ground allows for traffic flow changes to occur faster in response to conditions, which will be monitored on the ground from a central command as well as by the police helicopter in the sky.
“Every part of this plan is able to be expanded or contracted based on that need, so it’s flexible. I think we’ll accommodate and change over time as this venue establishes itself as part of this community,” Stawinski said. “We’re really not going to understand completely how this is going to operate in this community until it actually opens.”
The plan also includes “relief valves” where traffic can be rerouted in case of severe congestion or a public safety emergency.
The officers on the ground will be all volunteers working overtime so resources are not diverted from normal police functions. Bradley Frome, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for public infrastructure with County Executive Rushern Baker, III’s office, said while the county is in talks with MGM, most of those overtime costs are going to be borne by the county government.
In addition to manpower, Stawinski said technology will help manage traffic. MGM has installed a high-tech garage that provides data about the number and location of parking spaces open, which will be critical in deciding whether to direct drivers to the garage or to one of the three surface lots available.
A total of about 6,000 spots are available, Stawinski said. Even though 9,000 vehicles are expected, Stawinski said the nature of people’s usage of MGM means spaces will turn over to allow others to use them. Not all 9,000 cars will be at the casino at one time.
“It’s a similar dynamic to a police station. So, there’s a couple hundred police officers assigned to our given district stations in Prince George’s County. But at any given time are there going to be 200 officers in that station. They work across five shifts, going across 24 hours. So, same thing with MGM,” he said.
Plans have been made for those using various forms of mass transit as well. MGM has dedicated bus loops for Metro buses, and tour buses will be asked to park off-site, their riders shuttled over. Drivers not following the directive might be banned from the property, Stawinski said.
The facility has also designated areas for taxi, as well as Uber and Lyft, pick-ups. Moore said the casino will prevent the ridesharing services from getting passengers in other areas, if it becomes a problem.
“One of the things we’ve also done was geofencing. So if we don’t want Uber picking up in a certain area, we are going to kind of block that signal from being sent to the person to pick up at a particular location,” he said.
With residential neighborhoods so close to the casino, community members have expressed concerns about patrons parking in their neighborhoods instead of MGM’s garages.
Dianne Harris at the Prince George’s County Revenue Authority said at the meeting that residents can petition to become a residential parking permit area. Sixty percent of owners and renters must sign a petition and a public hearing must be held before the permits can be approved, a process that could take five months or more.
But, if a zone were to be set up, $50 parking tickets could be issued to non-residents parking in the neighborhood. People with two unpaid tickets within 90 days could have their car booted.
Harris said the county’s parking permit system does not use hanging tags or stickers that can be counterfeited and instead reads residents’ license plate numbers. The residents would collectively make the decision on the days and times when non-resident parking would be prohibited.
“A colleague of mine used to tell me it was like living in a gated community without the gates, because the residents have a lot of say in when and who can park at your place,” Harris said.
Officials say the plan is not finalized yet and community responses to the proposal will be considered. Residents may send their comments, questions or concerns to police_MGM@co.pg.md.us. The full plan, as well as additional information, is available at http://bit.ly/2dZKCm5.