Update, 4:35 p.m.:
For the most part, golf fans using the U.S. Open’s huge bus system enjoyed a smooth trip to the links Thursday, requiring only a few tweaks to get Friday motorists off the highway and into a park-and-ride lot faster.
Spectators are reminded to leave backpacks at home, though many were allowed to bring sunscreen, maps and binoculars in transparent bags, through the security checkpoints.
Most of the 30,000 golf fans Thursday took either a plush, cloth-cushioned private coach from the Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup, or a school bus from Fort Steilacoom Park, all funded by the tournament.
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At worst, it took about 85 minutes total — to walk through security queues at the fairgrounds, wait for a bus, then ride across Pierce County, around 7:30 a.m. But for earlybirds at 5:30 a.m. or late risers at 10 a.m., the journey took only half as long.
To reduce mid-morning delays, the Puyallup site will keep two lots open for entering fans Friday, instead of one at a time, said Sheri Badger of Pierce County Emergency Management, the event’s transportation spokeswoman. In Steilacoom, more state troopers will be deployed, to provide two entrances rather than a single gate, she said.
Slow entry led to spillover congestion, reaching three miles back onto southbound Highway 167 entering Puyallup, just before 8 a.m. But it quickly cleared.
“It’s going well,” Badger said, noting that patience is needed. “Everybody is trying to get to the U.S. Open at the same time.”
The performance shows that well-organized transit can rise to the occasion in crowded Western Washington — as in February 2014, when more than 400,000 Seahawks football fans made it into downtown Seattle for a post-Super Bowl parade.
John Ladenburg, former Pierce County Executive who had the idea of converting an old quarry to a links course, compared Chambers Bay to Pebble Beach, Calif., where tourney shuttles run on a 17-mile road. He said he’s been reassuring local leaders for months that the U.S. Golf Association knows what it’s doing, after 115 years presenting the Open.
“We can learn from these people. I think Pierce Transit, Sound Transit and King County Metro ought to look at how they pulled this off, how they did their transportation plan,” he said, while walking in the crowd toward the ninth and 18th greens. “Shuttle busing is the the way major events can be handled in the future, not everybody driving up to the front door.”
Update, 11:15 a.m.: All in all, the Chambers Bay logistics team posted a birdie this morning in their efforts to present a bus-shuttle Open.
By about 9:45 a.m., it took less than 40 minutes to clear the security gate, wait for a cushioned charter bus, and make the trip from the Puyallup fairgrounds to the links along Puget Sound. Earlier, the trek lasted as long as 90 minutes.
Most of the 30,000 fans are arriving either on charter buses from the fairgrounds, or on school buses from a smaller park-and-ride hub at Fort Steilacoom Park. Plenty of space remained, if needed, on the opposite southwest side of the fairgrounds.
The primary parking lot at Puyallup filled by 7:30 a.m., followed by smaller outlying fairgrounds lots where spectators needed to take a longer walk. There was a quarter-mile line approaching the security checkpoint, but it moved steadily, and shrank to zero before 10 a.m.
“It went smoothly so far today,” said Bernita McDowell, supervising one of the big lots. “They’ve done their homework.”
The mood has been relaxed despite some waits for security, as well as traffic jams that peaked at three miles on nearby southbound Highway 167 around 8 a.m.
“The big push right now is, everyone wanting to get in and see Tiger,” McDowell said. Golf legend Tiger Woods is scheduled to start at the first tee at 2:28 p.m.
Shuttle bus drivers, many from out of state, have benefited from traveling opposite the main commute traffic, so there were few congestion delays. The big mystery now is whether fans will leave as steadily as they arrived, or will a sudden early-evening surge combine with afternoon crowding to fray travelers’ nerves.
Update, 9:40 a.m.: As the late-morning fans head to Chambers Bay, they’re finding lineups a quarter-mile long approaching the security checkpoint at the Puyallup fairgrounds park-and-ride center. But the line is moving steadily forward.
Bags are prohibited, except the see-through kind, as are spray-on sunscreen canisters. Staff outside the fairgrounds are warning people to eat and drink their breakfast before reaching security, saying “you have ten minutes.” The wait appears somewhat longer, followed by another wait to catch a comfortable charter bus to the U.S. Open. The bus and parking, by the way, come at no extra charge.
Despite the lineup, Dennis Conlon of north Seattle said it took only one hour to reach the gate from home, despite a backup on Highway 167 exiting to Puyallup. “There was a little backup, but no worse than Seattle at 7 o’clock on the freeway,” he said.
It appears that right now may the longest wait to get to the Open, as the Washington State Department of Transportation says car traffic to Puyallup is subsiding.
The main lot near the Fairgrounds is full and latecomers are parking in outlying lots. Afternoon travel could be tougher, if many of the 30,000 fans leave at once via the Puyallup or Steilacoom bus centers.
Update, 8:40 a.m.: Traffic has all been worsening around Puyallup, as golf fans make their way to the park and ride lot at a Western Washington Fairgrounds.
Congestion has overflowed onto Highway 167 southbound, near the designated exit at Pioneer Avenue. State traffic maps show more than a mile of stop and go conditions, but a spokesman said the clog is beginning to break up, as of 8:25 a.m.
“The most we’ve seen is three miles, but traffic is starting to clear up quite nicely,” on southbound 167 entering Puyallup, said WSDOT spokesman Doug Adamson. A crowed segment of Highway 512 is back to normal already, he said.
In the south, approaching the Fort Steilacoom Park park-ride lot, drivers have found delays on Bridgeport Way, but the Washington State Department of Transportation says there’s no crowding on I-5.
Luxury shuttle buses take about a half hour to reach Chambers Bay from the fairgrounds, and school buses make a slightly shorter shuttle trip from Steilacoom.
Original post: If you’re headed out to the U.S. Open this morning, travel light.
Golf fans are being told to go put their backpacks back in their cars or leave them at the gate when they use the Puyallup park-and-ride lot, at Washington State Fairgrounds. After passing a security gate, it’s an easy half-hour bus trip to Chambers Bay.
Aerosol cans, including spray-on sunscreen, are also banned, forcing one young man to step away, coat himself, then go to the back of the line. But the queues were about only 10 persons deep at 5:40 a.m., during the early rush to catch the first tee offs at 7 a.m. Quite a few spectators brought transparent bags that allowed screeners to view their lip balm, maps and binoculars.
There are about 21,000 parking stalls and 300 buses, serving the two park-ride centers at Puyallup and Steilacoom, to carry most of the 30,000 fans.
For drivers from Seattle, the blue signs on I-5 direct drivers to exit at Highway 18 toward Auburn, then make several doglegs via West Valley Highway, southbound Highway 167, and finally some Puyallup side streets — instead of putting traffic on the direct north-south Highway 161 to Meridian Avenue.
Golf fans Simon and Shelley Ferrar of Vancouver, B.C., said the detours were easy to follow, and they praised the local highway network, while being amazed that traffic at 5:30 was already congesting the other direction, from Pierce into King County.
They found parking easily at the fairgrounds — taking a cellphone picture to help them remember their row. But other people in their group, who stayed overnight in Federal Way, planned to wait until 9 a.m., and might have a tougher trip, Shelley Ferrar said. “They thought we were crazy for leaving so early,” she said.
The buses are air-conditioned coaches with plush cloth upholstery, and they spent only a few seconds in traffic delay, where Highway 512 over crosses I-5 near Parkland. A winding road closer to the golf course is blocked for buses and a few event related cars. Even the nearest cemetery posted a security guard to deter roadside parking.