WOODSTOCK — Traffic around The Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta off RidgeWalk Parkway clogged up the interstate and surrounding area on official opening day for the mall Thursday, causing long delays for motorists as shoppers fought the gridlock to pick up some bargains.
The traffic tie-ups started for the 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting and continued much of the day, but city officials say they anticipate less volume after the opening weekend at the mall.
Vice President of Marketing for Horizon Group Gina Slechta said although she always expects heavy traffic on opening day for a new outlet center, the traffic around The Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta was “a little more” than anticipated.
“We always expect a tremendous amount of traffic for grand opening weekend, and we’ve gone to great efforts to make arrangements for shuttles and off-site parking,” Slechta said.
“We’ve moved all of our employees, all of the store employees, we’re not allowing them to park in the shopping center, everything is 100 percent for the customers.”
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques, where the mall is located, said according to a report he received at about 2 p.m. Thursday, traffic was no longer backed up onto Interstate 575, and cars were circling the lot and able to find open spaces.
As many as 2,000 people were at the ribbon-cutting Thursday. The parking lot has about 1,780 parking spaces available on the mall property, a project fact sheet shows.
“We expected it to be this big,” Henriques said Thursday afternoon. “(Wednesday night) was even worse with the special VIP thing, and we attribute that to being not only a good crowd, but also it was done at 6 o’clock, which was peak rush hour.”
Henriques said at least 6,000 tickets were sold for the VIP preview event Wednesday.
Woodstock Police Chief Calvin Moss helped direct traffic at both the VIP preview Wednesday and the ribbon-cutting event Thursday morning, and said Wednesday night the amount of cars at the mall was “more than we had spaces for.”
“We’ve been working very closely with the outlet mall management,” Moss said Thursday. “We’re actually operating a unified command post here on site with deployment of both Woodstock PD officials as well as mall management representatives, and we’re trying to respond to anything that does comes up, and anticipate potential challenges down the road.”
Moss said Thursday morning’s ribbon-cutting traffic “was very manageable.”
By noon on Thursday, though, the parking lot reached capacity and cars were being diverted to overflow parking, he said. A grass lot down the road, owned by the RidgeWalk project developers, had made an agreement to allow the use of the lot for overflow parking, but due to rain Wednesday night, they had to use other options.
“The mall has arranged with the Church of Christ on Rope Mill Road and we’ve been using the school across the street as well for overflow parking,” Moss said. “I would certainly think it would become more of a steady influx of people as opposed to a major push but as with any new establishment the front end tends to be the busiest when everybody is trying to get there to see it.”
Moss said about noon in order to get traffic off of I-575, officers opened up two turn lanes from the off ramp onto RidgeWalk Parkway “to get folks into the mall a little bit quicker.”
The police chief said when the new intersection was constructed last year before the opening of the mall, the Georgia Department of Transportation had said two turning lanes were not needed there.
Henriques said he anticipates less traffic in the future and that a traffic light has already been ordered for the southbound off ramp at RidgeWalk Parkway.
“One of the problems is the DOT at first wouldn’t allow us to put a traffic light at that exit at RidgeWalk, but have since rescinded that, and we have a traffic light on order, so that will help tremendously,” Henriques said. “Depending on the manufacturer, it could be as early as August or as late as December (for the light).”