According to a report in the Daily Progress newspaper in Louisa County, Virginia, Wal-Mart seriously underestimated the amount of truck traffic that its planned distribution center will attract. In fact, the number of trucks on Louisa roads are now estimated at more than twice what Wal-Mart originally said. When Wal-Mart announced plans to build the facility on U.S. 15 it said an additional 400 to 500 trucks would enter and leave the area daily. Now that they have received approval to build the distribution center, Wal-Mart has revised that figure to more than 1,000 – a truck every 90 seconds or so. “It was unexpected, obviously. We have to make sure that road is safe for our people to travel on,” the County Administrator said, without breaking stride. Wal-Mart altered its estimate after studying similar facilities across the country and ‘discovering’ there was considerably more traffic than previously believed. But others have criticized the level of communication between Wal-Mart and the county, saying the figures should have been presented long ago. “We would have liked to have known this early in the course of designing the growth pattern,” County Supervisor David Morgan told the newspaper. Morgan added that the Wal-Mart traffic impact likely will come as an unpleasant surprise to the area’s residents. “They were already bracing themselves for the impact of the 400 to 500 trucks, and this is beyond anyone’s conception of how it is going to impact traffic in that area. I’ve had complaints from constituents about just the construction truck traffic.” One county lawyer said it more succinctly: “I’d call it shockingly irresponsible. It’s a guarantee for serious accidents, and it appears that it will completely choke off the main corridor into Louisa County.” It is likely that Route 15 is going to have to be reconfigured to handle this volume of traffic, and that expense is likely to be paid for by Virginia taxpayers, not the world’s largest retailer. The County Supervisor says this experience has taught him “we need to plan ahead, rather than be reactive in our approach.”
This foolishness of what happened to Louisa County could have been prevented if the town had insisted on an independent traffic study, including an analysis of similar operations now in existence. The fact is, the county required little or nothing of Wal-Mart, so they got little or nothing in return. Garbage in, garbage out. This kind of sloppy planning can easily be corrected, and the best response is a zoning code that requires Major Developments to underwrite the cost of independently produced impact statements on traffic, public cost/benefit, wetlands, etc. Because Louisa county officials did half the work needed to protect the welfare of local residents, those “constituents” will now pay double the price — a cost that Viriginia taxpayers will have to foot.