How Congestion Killed the Mall

A recent article in the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch highlights an often ignored problem: what happens to commercial and residential development when transportation infrastructure is poorly planned. In this case, it created congestin that killed a shopping mall, Consumers Square on the east side of Columbus, Ohio (just west of the wealthy suburb of Reynoldsburg).

Consumer Square opened in 1985 as the new shopping Mecca on the Far East Side. Major stores such as Meijer, Target, Best Buy, Burlington Coat Factory and Babies “R” Us bloomed around the interchange.

But some think the seeds for failure were sown from the start because of poor traffic planning that didn’t deal with congestion that, ultimately, discouraged would-be customers.

Yet, today, government officials have no immediate plans to confront the traffic congestion or develop a long-term road map to redevelop the area, including the 40 acres that were Consumer Square.

The empty buildings on the 40-acre former shopping mall site were bulldozed in the fall of 2008.

The decline of Consumer’s Square can’t be attributed to economics or demographics, either. This wasn’t a poor or declining area, either. The population within 2 miles of the key interchange had risen from 35,164 in 1990 to 48,592 in 2008. The median household income was $46,725.

The problem was poor design and an inability (or unwillingness) to upgrade infrastructure to meet modern demands.

But the problem is more about the increase in traffic than the road design, said Nick Gill, assistant transportation director for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.

A state study from 2007 acknowledged that the interchange is inadequate to handle the traffic.

Ten years ago, more than 61,000 vehicles passed by Consumer Square on Brice Road every day. By 2006, more than 100,000 vehicles were traveling on I-70 at Brice each day, according to MORPC.

But though developers generally favor high traffic counts, the Brice-Tussing area is too congested to attract them, [local developer Robert] Weiler said.

At the end of the day, transportation infrastructure needs to provide access to the services and destinations people want. In this case, poor ramp design, inconvenient entrance and egress points, and a failiure to upgrade infrastructure to meet rising demand destroyed, rather than created, economic value.

A map of the area can be found here.