So many people and no quick way out.
Game-day gridlock in Baton Rouge on fall Saturdays these past few years have lived up to that summation as LSU football has ridden high on successive seasons with 10 wins or more.
But after two years of work, the completion of a consultant’s report and the opening of a nearly 10,000-seat addition to 90-year-old Tiger Stadium, LSU Athletic Department officials and area law enforcement will roll out a new traffic plan Saturday to move the masses when the Sam Houston State University Bearkats take on the Tigers.
LSU officials expect a crowd of more than 99,000 people Saturday, said Brian Broussard, LSU associate athletic director for ticket sales and operations.
“We bring a small city during Tiger football into a small congested area,” said Sgt. David Wallace, Baton Rouge police incident commander for LSU football.
LSU officials have outlined a variety of changes:
- A double-lane contraflow on Nicholson Drive southbound from Skip Bertman Drive to Bluebonnet Boulevard after the game ends.
- A new post-game pedestrian buffer zone on Nicholson in front of the west side of the stadium that prohibits vehicle traffic.
- Strict enforcement of no parking on the shoulders along Nicholson and Burbank Drive south of Skip Bertman to improve pedestrian safety and to aid the Nicholson contraflow.
- Strict enforcement of controls on which direction traffic exits from parking areas.
- The addition of 2,300 new parking spaces on the south and west sides of campus.
More than 200 officers from a variety of agencies, including 169 from the Baton Rouge Police Department, will be on hand. Wreckers and motorcycle officers will also be rolling to enforce the no-parking rules on Nicholson and Burbank starting Friday.
“This isn’t a suggestion. This is what we’re going to do,” Wallace said.
Wallace and LSU officials said the changes are designed to improve safety and the fan experience as Tiger football competes with high-definition televisions and air-conditioned living rooms.
“It’s one thing we want to attack. It’s not just us. It’s nationwide,” said Adam Smith, director of parking operations for the LSU Athletic Department.
Athletic Director Joe Alleva also made the point about the fan experience this spring as the Tiger Athletic Foundation-funded upgrade and expansion, which boosted Tiger Stadium’s capacity to fifth in the nation at 102,321, was coming to a close. The expansion plus new tennis and gymnastics facilities cost $80 million combined.
Gordon Sizemore, 35, general manager of Walk-Ons Bistreaux & Bar on Nicholson just south of Tiger Stadium, said Wednesday he had not heard about the contraflow planned in front of his restaurant.
“It could have its pluses and minuses,” he said.
Sizemore said LSU built a new parking lot on a nearby field that fans, some of whom frequented his establishment, had been using for years. He said some people might see the contraflow and go in another direction while some might stay at the bar a little longer.
LSU’s Smith distilled the essential traffic problem during football games: Most of the parking is on the west side of the stadium but the traffic is mostly coming from or heading back east toward I-10.
Smith said the Tiger Athletic Foundation hired consultant SP+Gameday, which visited LSU last year for three games.
Smith, who said he could not release the report that TAF paid for, said the report makes a variety of short- and long-term recommendations to improve traffic, including infrastructure work that won’t happen immediately. This year’s traffic plan is a first step based on that report and on discussions about parking problems.
“This is not the end game,” he added.
Smith said LSU officials see the Nicholson contraflow as one immediate way to get traffic moving quickly.
“It affects so much. If we can get some areas of campus going, it frees up everything else,” Smith said.
The pedestrian buffer works hand-in-hand with the planned post-game control of Nicholson by blocking traffic on Nicholson between North and South Stadium drives and allowing departing fans to cross unimpeded to parking lots west of the stadium.
Smith said traffic going north of North Stadium must head north on Nicholson while traffic south of South Stadium must head south on Nicholson. The contraflow plan will limit the CATS Touchdown Express to ferrying about 1,000 people because the bus service won’t be able to make multiple trips to and from campus to the drop-off points downtown and at L’Auberge Hotel and Casino.
Bob Mirabito, CEO of the Capital Area Transit System, said the parish transit agency shifted its three-year-old program after learning about the traffic changes and speaking with LSU and other officials.
“What we came up with was the best solution to support what LSU is doing,” Mirabito said.
Authorities have used contraflow for many years to move pre- and post-game traffic along Dalrymple Drive, River Road and even Highland Road when the conditions require it, Wallace, of the Baton Rouge police, said.
While contraflow will continue as needed this year, in the past 20 years at least, the use of both lanes to send traffic southbound on Nicholson has not occurred.
Past accounts in The Advocate going back to the early 1990s indicate LSU and police planned post-game contraflow on some parts of Nicholson. However, Wallace said that while traffic was prevented from moving north on Nicholson, the northbound lane was not used for southbound traffic — which is what a true contraflow would entail.
“It may be that was their intention and they just didn’t execute,” Wallace, who said he worked many of those games.
He said he wasn’t sure how long the contraflow will last Saturday night, but he is hopeful it could be finished in about 45 minutes to one hour.
New parking spaces
LSU has added 2,300 new parking spaces. Here’s where they are:
- 800-space reserved permit lot on the site of the recently demolished Nicholson Apartments west of Nicholson Drive across from Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
- 800-space public lot on the LSU Golf Course driving range off Gourrier Avenue.
- 700-space public lot addition to the levee lots at Gourrier and River Road.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.