Traffic estimates used by the Saratoga Casino and Raceway rely on old data and figures that likely underestimate the impact events at a proposed event center would have on area roadways, a private engineering study concludes.
The seven-page report drawn up by Chazen Companies found the racino’s figures included in its initial submission for the state’s environmental quality review rely on data pulled from 2005, when there was less development near its proposed 134,000-square-foot expansion. The report also took issue with the racino factoring in only two special events per month at the planned 2,000-seat facility, without considering how large events held simultaneously elsewhere in the city could impact traffic management.
Specifically, the study cited the racino’s cancelation of its Independence Day fireworks display next month due to its coinciding with a performance by the popular jam band Phish at the nearby Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The racino was concerned about potential traffic problems in the city and the lack of availability of city police officers to work a traffic detail. The track had hosted a fireworks display for more than 40 years.
“Although the study bases its conclusions on the premise that traffic volumes in the area are similar, the number of trips generated by the proposed expansion are minimal, and special events can be handled by traffic management practices which include the use of local enforcement agency personnel, we do not agree,” James Connors, Chazen’s director of engineering services, states in the report.
The racino operators agreed to commission the report at the request of the city Planning Board, even though the state Gaming Commission ultimately will have power to approve or reject the estimated $30 million project. Earlier this month, the racino placed $15,000 in an escrow account to pay for the study, which is aimed at helping resolve issues the city raises in a 2-inch-thick binder of information submitted to the state as part of the approval process.
The Chazen study also questioned the impact the thoroughbred meet at the nearby Saratoga Race Course could have on traffic generated by the expansion. Also cited in the study was a lack of detail on the pedestrian and bicycle amenities the racino will incorporate in its plan or how the project will comply with the Complete Streets policy adopted by the city in 2012.
Planning Board members were briefed on the Chazen study during their meeting Wednesday and were assured by racino officials that the issues raised could be resolved with relative ease. Racino Vice President George “Skip” Carlson said his expansion team will work with the city to amicably resolve any concerns raised in the study.
Carlson defended the racino’s traffic estimates for special events at the event center, stressing that the crowds he anticipates drawing will likely arrive early or leave late to explore some of the other amenities, such as restaurants or the gaming facility. As an example, he cited the recent Salt N’ Peppa concert at Vapor Night Club, which drew about 800 people.
“They’re not just coming for the event,” he said. “They’re coming early for our dining options and they’re staying late to game.”
Carlson said the racino is designed to handle large crowds. During the heyday of harness racing, the 161-acre property off Jefferson Street hosted thousands of visitors daily.
“Back in the 1970s, we had 4,200 people coming here a day,” he said.
The city is expected to submit comments on the project to the Gaming Commission on Friday, which marks the end of the 30-day period in which Saratoga Springs can challenge for lead agency status. City officials indicated they will issue a letter to the commission expressing dismay of over their lack of oversight in the project, but won’t argue to change their status as an interested agency.