State highway officials agreed yesterday to talk to Wal-Mart about changing an entrance to its planned store on Route 26 in Eldersburg to avoid potential traffic problems.
But the state made no promises because the store has the necessary county approval to build its shopping center with access to Route 26.
Residents are worried that more development at Routes 26 and 32 will bring traffic to a halt. The County Commissioners asked highway officials yesterday to take some action.
"Public safety is the top priority," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said. "It goes above and beyond a corporation's preference."
Gene Straub, assistant district engineer for traffic with the State Highway Administration (SHA), said the commissioners' request comes late "but it's not too late."
Wal-Mart plans to open a store late this year at the intersection and the current plan would allow motorists to turn right or left from Route 26 into the shopping center. Another entrance would be off Route 32.
Wal-Mart officials were not invited to yesterday's meeting at the County Office Building, and a spokesman at the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., could not be reached for comment.
Highway officials agreed to defer issuing an access permit until talking with Wal-Mart, said David Ramsey, assistant chief of engineering in the access permits division.
Wal-Mart needs the permit before it can begin construction on an entrance to a state road, Mr. Ramsey said. He said said the state would honor the commissioners' request.
Mr. Brown said Eldersburg resident Dan Hughes brought the issue to his attention.
The commissioner said he was frustrated to learn of the potential problem so late. If Wal-Mart insists on entry from Route 26, only right turns should be allowed, he said.
Commissioner Richard T. Yates, a member of the Planning Commission, voted for Wal-Mart's site plan at a Feb. 21 meeting, minutes show. He did not return a call yesterday. Commissioner Donald I. Dell was ill.
Mr. Hughes, a member of the newly formed group called Alternatives for a Better Eldersburg, said he planned a letter-writing campaign.
"I'm opposed to Wal-Mart or any business coming in and ignoring the community's rights or feelings and especially ignoring the safety issue," he said.
Mr. Hughes said he will urge residents to write to Wal-Mart and the highway administration opposing access to the center from Route 26.
"I'd rather not see the store there at all," he said. "Somebody should tell Wal-Mart goodbye" if the company isn't willing to listen.
County Transportation Planner Janet Gregor said county officials were concerned about allowing left turns into the shopping center from Route 26, but agreed because SHA officials said they would monitor traffic in the area.
"A lot of work went into this, and a lot of compromises had to be made," Ms. Gregor said.
County planners had asked Wal-Mart to build the store facing Route 32 instead of Route 26. Route 32 is not as heavily traveled. But Wal-Mart would not agree, Ms. Gregor said.
She said she also had recommended that only right turns into the center be allowed from Route 26.
The corner where Wal-Mart plans to build its store is expected to be heavily developed. Giant Food has announced plans for a store there, and a Carroll County Bank & Trust Co. branch is under construction.
The state widened the intersection several years ago. SHA officials give the intersection a "C" rating on a scale of "A" for good to "F" for failure.