Ikea, the home-furnishings store, may pride itself on its sleek designs, but the monumental traffic jams caused by its new store in Plymouth Township are anything but streamlined.
When the Swedish retail behemoth opened the store last month, jams on Ridge Pike and the Blue Route were so bad that Plymouth Township called out the police. During peak hours, cars were backed up a mile on Ridge Pike into Whitemarsh Township, officials said.
"It was kind of a monster," Joan Mower, Plymouth Township manager, said of the 325,000-square-foot store.
Some short-term solutions, including more signs, are in the works, officials said. Many drivers unfamiliar with Ridge Pike traffic patterns were making illegal left turns onto Alan Wood Road, where the store is, Mower said. They were bypassing a two-lane jug handle on Ridge Pike that handles left turns and U-turns.
Other drivers became confused and tried to cross two lanes of traffic to reach the jug handle.
To help alleviate the mess, Ikea posted alternative directions on its Web site, using back roads that lead through Conshohocken neighborhoods. Borough Council member Vince Totaro said angry calls from residents started immediately. "People asked us are we crazy for allowing an Ikea in Conshohocken?" Totaro said.
Because of its size and popularity, Ikea has often encountered resistance against its stores from communities concerned about traffic and sprawl. But no one protested the new mega-store, even though many drivers were well aware of traffic snarls at the former Ikea store at the Plymouth Meeting Mall.
The new Ikea store was built at one end of a commercial strip that already has three busy, big-box stores: Circuit City, Home Depot and BJ's Wholesale Club. Also in the vicinity along Ridge Pike are a multiplex movie theater and auto dealerships lining both sides of the road.
"There didn't seem to be a lot of worry," said Jack Heleniak, Conshohocken borough manager. "I don't think anyone envisioned it would be this bad." In early February, members of the Conshohocken and Plymouth Township councils met to discuss the Ikea traffic problems. They came up with some short-term solutions, such as adding signs at the jug handle and synchronized lighting.
But a permanent fix - removing the jug handle and adding a double left-turn lane, for example - won't be likely for years, Mower said.
In the meantime, the municipalities will have regular meetings on traffic and development that will eventually include West Conshohocken Borough and Whitemarsh and Upper Merion Townships, Totaro said.
"What needs to happen around here are serious infrastructure improvements," he said. The Ikea situation has shown the town councils that they need to talk more often, "which is always good," he said.
As for the weekend gridlock, Mower says it has improved. Then again, the store has been open only a few weeks - with big snowfalls on some key weekends. "We're still concerned, especially when they have sales," Mower said. "We're not at the point yet where we know what it's going to be like."
Contact staff writer Chris Gray at 610-313-8108 or email@example.com.