In most real estate development projects, the regulatory jurisdiction, whether it be city, county, tribe or otherwise, will usually require the developer to provide a traffic study. In the traffic study, which is typically prepared by a civil engineer, the existing transportation system surrounding the project is identified and traffic counts are determined and forecasted. Then the impact of the proposed development on the surrounding transportation system will be addressed.
If the impact is severe enough, then the developer will need to add improvements to the transportation system as part of the project. Such improvements may include widening the road, adding an acceleration or deceleration lane, adding a dedicated left-turn lane and arrow, or adding other controls to an intersection, such as traffic signals, stop signs or traffic circles.
While the developer may view a traffic study as just another hurdle to clear to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals — not to mention as a source of added infrastructure costs —the traffic study, and thinking about traffic in general, can be a very useful exercise for both the developer and for other commercial real estate parties interested in the project.
Clearly, the traffic counts can be used to forecast expected visits to the project. The traffic counts can also be used to determine whether street-facing signage is a justifiable expense.
But the traffic study can provide much more information than traffic counts. The developer or even a broker looking at putting a tenant in the project, whether the development is a shopping center, a multifamily complex, an industrial park or an office building, should look at traffic from the perspective of their end-user client.
For example, start by looking at the project’s ingress and egress. Do vehicles have a dedicated turn lane into the complex? If not, then getting into and out of the location can be an irritant or an inconvenience.
Think about the direction of traffic flow at different times of day. At peak times of day for the destination’s use, is the sun in the eyes of the driver? Is the project located on a major street on the way into a downtown central business district? If so, then being on the right hand side of the road for a use that can benefit from an early morning rush hour would be helpful.
Is there is a peak time, where traffic will be congested getting in and out of the development, such as an office building with commuters, or a school with school buses and parents all vying to get in and out in a compressed period of time? If so, it could make sense to look at dedicated turn lanes and a signalized intersection.
A look at traffic should also weigh heavily on the safety of the roads surrounding the project. For example, are slow moving trucks or buses forced to merge into or out of traffic quickly? Are vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the same corridors? Is the project on a curve with limited vehicle views?
Not all of these concerns will be addressed directly in the traffic study itself. But none of this analysis is rocket science.
In fact, it is very simple. Thinking about traffic from the end user’s perspective can help the original developer, and other commercial real estate parties as well, visualize how to conveniently and safely drive clients, customers and other end users to their location. And as everyone knows, location is everything in real estate.
Roger S. Owers is an attorney and a commercial real estate agent at Keyser. Roger holds a Ph.D. in civil engineering, is a registered professional civil engineer, and is a licensed attorney. Roger focuses on non-traditional, complex, and hairy commercial real estate and land deals, including deals in Indian Country.