With the big BCS Championship tonight, I don’t need to remind you that Glendale – and more specifically Westgate – will be a nightmare! If you’re not going to the game, steer clear of the area surrounding University Of Phoenix Stadium. I’m certainly not taking the usual I-10 to Loop-101 home to Peoria tonight! Another spot you’ll want to avoid is Sky Harbor. Let’s not forget, most of the 73,000 fans are FLYING in from Alabama and Oregon.
(Courtesy of Lisa Halverstadt and Emily Gersema - Arizona Republic)
Auburn Tigers fans Claire and Walt Bassett of Boston arrived in Phoenix three days ahead of tonight’s BCS National Championship Game and will stay for the better part of the week to avoid the post-game crush at Sky Harbor International Airport.
Oregon Ducks fan Jeri Rademan plans to fly back to Sacramento on Wednesday. “We’ll avoid the rush,” she said.
Such foresight could be a smart move as more than 73,000 college-football fans descend upon the Valley for tonight’s highly anticipated title game between No. 1-ranked Auburn and No. 2-ranked Oregon.
Many fans are already in town, but some will take overnight flights and arrive at the airport this morning, while others will rush from the game to catch overnight flights home.
Officials say fan travel will mean extra crowds at Sky Harbor and big clogs at the rental-car center, while in Glendale, the game could mean traffic backups that could slow tailgaters and commuters alike.
On a busy day like today, officials estimate there will be about 150,000 travelers at the airport – at least a third more than usual.
Airport rental companies are seeing about 32,000 transactions in the week leading up to the national championship game, about 4,000 more than usual, airport spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said. The real rush comes the day after the game, when at least 10,000 cars should be returned, Rodriguez said.
The airport recommends that people returning rental cars in the next two days arrive three hours before their flights.
Travelers not returning rental cars should plan to arrive at least two hours early to allow time to get through security.
Once fans escape those lines, they’re likely to find crowded gates.
Delta Air Lines added six flights overnight Monday and into Tuesday to help fans get home, while Southwest Airlines rearranged itineraries to ensure fans could easily connect to other flights.
Weather-related flight delays around the game appear unlikely.
“It will be cool and dry,” said Hector Vasquez, a National Weather Service meteorologist said. “Great weather for partying.” Just as airlines, rental-car companies and airport officials have planned for a spike in customers, Glendale is braced for traffic as thousands take to the roads, headed to University of Phoenix Stadium for the 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
Glendale traffic engineer Debbie Albert hopes fans will think ahead, too.
“We’re really encouraging them to have a game plan ahead of time and know where it is they’re going,” Albert said.
Quickly reading the back of a prepurchased parking ticket or looking at a map could save time that might otherwise be spent in traffic, she said.
Thousands of fans are expected to ride to the game in buses or limousines, which should lessen the burden on Valley freeways, but Albert cautioned that backups on Loop 101 and Interstate 10 should be a consideration for fans and commuters alike. Fans driving from the East Valley have been late to concerts and games because they simply punched an address into GPS devices without considering traffic.
This is one of the lessons learned since University of Phoenix Stadium hosted its first football game in 2006.
The first “Monday Night Football” game led Glendale officials to plan for limousine drop-off spots and signage. Other games taught them to amend traffic plans to ensure that buses had enough room to turn.
Fans now generally get into games on time, and lots empty rapidly. Albert considers the event a success if lots are empty within 90 minutes of the game’s end, something the stadium typically achieves.
But Glendale officials have learned that there’s much they can’t control.
A close game can mean a two-hour wait in the parking lot because fans are likely to walk out of the stadium en masse, rather than trickle out early, as happens in a blowout.
And traffic engineers don’t have the ultimate sway when fans hop into their cars to head to the game.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have control over when the people leave their house or restaurant or entertainment venue,” Albert said.