With the possibility of a proposed 315,000-square-foot outlet mall making its home alongside the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds sometime in 2009, county officials have begun looking at how they may be able to relieve potential traffic issues that could arise.
John Michael, with Naismith Engineering, made a presentation at an April 2 Nueces County Commissioners Court meeting in order to apprise the court of the situation. Developers from Dolphin Ventures I, LLC have been in discussions with the county about ways to stem the flow of traffic along Terry Shamsie Boulevard and the Highway 77 access road.
"What we're talking about is the traffic flow in and out of the outlets from the fairgrounds," Michael said.
Currently, there are two ways for visitors to get in and out of the fairgrounds: down the four-lane Terry Shamsie Boulevard, which comes from and leads to the access road along Highway 77, and an unnamed and unmarked two-lane road that runs onto County Road 40.
Michael said because the developer is estimating there to be at least 4 million shopping visits annually once the outlet mall opens, the situation needs to be discussed and addressed as soon as possible.
Kelvin Moore, general manager of the fairgrounds, agreed with Michael's assessment, adding that he believes the two facilities - outlet mall and the fairgrounds - will find a way to co-exist.
"It absolutely, positively needs to be addressed," Moore said. "You want people to get in and out of the fairgrounds and outlet mall easily. You don't want the two to negatively impact each other."
Some of the possible solutions being discussed by county officials include asking the Texas Department of Transportation to install a new on-ramp onto Highway 77, since the layout of the outlet mall's entrances from the access road could lead to a bottleneck.
Michael said only one of the proposed entrances/exits would allow visitors to leave and promptly get onto Highway 77. The other two would require residents to travel miles, down the access road and through Highway 44, before getting back onto Highway 77 near Calallen.
But Michael downplayed the importance of the on-ramp, saying it is only meant to avoid congestion around the outlet mall.
"We don't even need to do it," Michael said. "It's really just a minor issue. But we need to be thinking about it now instead of later."
Another possibility to ease congestion is the widening of the roads leading in and out of the fairgrounds, the largest of which, Terry Shamsie Boulevard, currently has four lanes, but no left turn lane.
"We'll probably have to do substantial work to that road," said County Judge Loyd Neal.
Michael agreed, since entrances to the outlet mall will also be in place along that stretch of road.
"What we don't want is someone stopping on the boulevard waiting to turn in somewhere," Michael said.
Developers have previously said they expect to have 4 million to 5 million shopping visits annually once the outlet mall opens in late 2009 or early 2010. In addition, Moore said he is projecting the fairgrounds to have about 248,000 visitors for the 2007-08 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1 and ends Sept. 30.
"I don't think that (the county) envisioned an outlet center with the kind of traffic it's going to have," Michael said.
But it's because of those numbers that Moore said the issue needs to be addressed, especially during times when large events are going on at the fairgrounds, such as the Corpus Christi Peddlers Show or Nueces County Junior Livestock Show, at the same time the outlet mall is in operation.
"It's a good problem to have, but if it's not addressed, it could be a bad problem," Moore said.