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If there's one thing eager shoppers can expect when the Nebraska Crossing Outlets mall opens Friday, it's the potential for roadways cramped with traffic.
It won't ease up soon, with other events set to send drivers on roads near the shopping center at Interstate 80 and U.S. Highways 6 and 31.
Law enforcement's advice for drivers?
“Don't get too excited, and realize the sales are going to be there for a long time,” said Lt. Randy Furby of the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office.
To help, the Sheriff's Office will have a handful of extra vehicles patrolling the area Friday. Based on its opening day, law enforcement will decide how to monitor the area in the future.
The Nebraska Department of Roads is estimating a 70 percent increase in traffic along Highway 31 near the mall because of the new shopping center. Last year, the area typically saw 9,156 vehicles per day, but that is projected to rise beyond 15,500 vehicles.
The mall's grand opening and holiday shopping season are expected to bring even greater amounts of traffic. Two days coming up could be especially busy.
On Saturday, the Huskers play the Michigan State Spartans at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
Less than two weeks later, on Nov. 29, they play at home again, this time against the Iowa Hawkeyes. That's also Black Friday.
“Black Friday is the big shopping day, and a lot of people will drive in from Iowa for the game, which will add to Nebraska fans,” Furby said. “This is kind of new for us.”
But Furby anticipates peak Black Friday traffic will come long before football fans head toward Lincoln because the mall opens Thursday night.
“Friday will tell us a little bit of what we'll have to do on Black Friday,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska Department of Roads is urging drivers to take note of roadway changes from the original design of Nebraska Crossing, which opened 20 years ago.
Brand new is the mall's main entrance at Nebraska Crossing Drive and Highway 6 and 31, an intersection that has a traffic signal.
The hope is that most drivers will use that intersection “for less confusion and for ease of congestion,” said Tim Weander, the Roads Department's district engineer for the Omaha area.
The mall's second access point is Melia Road and Highway 31, which was the primary access point when the original mall opened. It has since been reconstructed.
Drivers who access the mall by way of Melia Road will pass by the Sinclair station, Super 8 and McDonald's and through a roundabout before getting to the mall's parking lot.
That intersection, which does not have a traffic signal, will allow for northbound traffic to take a right into the mall, southbound traffic to take a left into the mall and westbound traffic to take a right to exit the mall.
It won't allow for access to I-80.
That means all exiting mall traffic bound for the interstate should use, and will be directed to, the new Nebraska Crossing Drive intersection, the Roads Department said.
Also new since the original mall's opening is a widened Interstate 80, where message boards will go up ahead of the exit to the mall, Weander said.
The Nebraska State Patrol will activate those as needed to alert drivers of congestion. The boards will be in place for the mall's opening weekend and maybe through Black Friday, Weander said.
“It might even go all the way into Christmas,” he said. “We just have to wait and see.”
The roadway improvements should help avoid the traffic problems — including vehicles stacking up at the interstate exit — that happened when the original mall opened, Gretna city engineer Steve Perry said. The City of Gretna was responsible for several mall-related public works projects.
Perry said drivers will find the new setup “fairly easy” to get around.
Weander and Furby agreed. The mall's property manager, Kelly Calderone, suggested customers carpool if they have friends and family also planning to visit the mall.
Said Furby, “Everybody will get in and everybody will get their shopping done. We're expecting big crowds, but the mall, they'll have plenty of products.”