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TRAFFIC AHEAD

Malta seeks lower speed limit on road serving computer chip factory

Monday, July 14, 2014
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TRAFFIC AHEAD


Knapp Road in Malta, during a quiet period.
Knapp Road in Malta, during a quiet period.

— On a recent midweek morning, not a vehicle was in sight on Knapp Road, and the loudest sounds were singing birds and a distant chain saw.

But residents say things are far different at the crack of dawn and in the late afternoon, when their little road is pulsing with the full-size pickups of GlobalFoundries construction workers.

The narrow two-lane country road has become a shortcut for more than a few of the 3,000 construction workers laboring at GlobalFoundries — and residents accustomed to having peace and quiet aren’t happy about it.

“Five a.m. every morning there’s a sea of pickups,” resident Greg Campbell told the Malta Town Board last week.

Last Monday, the Town Board formally asked the state Department of Transportation to lower the 45 mph speed limit on Knapp to 30 mph, in an effort to discourage or at least slow that traffic. The state routinely denies most such requests, however.

Town Supervisor Paul Sausville said he himself “followed a caravan of traffic” when he drove Knapp Road at 5:30 a.m. one morning last month.

“The concern of the residents is legitimate,” he said.

Malta Highway Superintendent Roger Crandall called the intersection of Knapp and Route 67 “dangerous,” citing limited sight distance.

Residents’ concern has increased in the past two months, since a new construction traffic entrance, called Wafer Way, opened off Cold Springs Road in Stillwater. Some workers think Knapp is a faster route to that entrance than Luther Forest Boulevard, with its roundabouts and no direct access to Fab 8.

The construction entrance allows workers to avoid lengthy backups at Fab 8’s main entrance, where contractors and GlobalFoundries’ permanent employees are all arriving for 6 a.m. shifts at the same time.

“There’s a lot of people trying to get in and out of the site in a narrow window of time,” said Mike Russo, GlobalFoundries’ director of government relations.

GlobalFoundries has about 2,400 full-time employees, which with construction crews means more than 5,000 people work at the site.

Sausville said traffic impacts on Knapp Road weren’t something that was ever anticipated when the Luther Forest Technology Campus was being designed a decade ago.

But with the Luther Forest Tech Campus corporation out of money, a key leg in the internal road system that would lead directly from Cordero Boulevard to GlobalFoundries was never built.

“We’re not really happy with the situation. We’re sensitive to the concerns of neighbors,” Russo said. Still, the company “can’t tell people not to use public roads,” he said.

On Monday, Sausville said about $3.7 million in state grant money is left from the construction of the internal road system, and that money may be available for additional road construction. He said he is trying to set up a meeting with GlobalFoundries and technology campus management to discuss it further.

A previous request for a lower speed limit on Knapp Road was turned down by DOT in 2008. Residents acknowledge their concerns about speed have been long-standing, but said the traffic volume issue is new.

Meanwhile, Malta is asking for a higher speed limit on Luther Forest Boulevard, the main entrance to the tech campus.

Though it is four lanes wide and designed as if it were a state highway, the road has only a 35 mph speed limit, for reasons town officials now call “misguided.” Since it was built in 2008, the boulevard has never seen the traffic volumes that were anticipated.

Construction activity at Fab 8 will continue at least through the end of the year, though there’s the potential for years’ more work if GlobalFoundries builds a second computer chip fabrication plant.

 
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