PLANT CITY – Last year, traffic slowed to a crawl the final day of the Florida Strawberry Festival.
An accident that knocked out traffic lights, sold-out shows by Hunter Hayes and Blake Shelton, and other factors led to long delays for many visitors going to and coming from the festival grounds.
Festival officials say they are doing their best to ensure there won’t be an encore in 2014.
They have a number of plans to ease traffic including:
* Portable electronic signs on Interstate 4 will encourage motorists to exit at Branch-Forbes Road and take the less heavily traveled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to reach the festival grounds.
* Oak Avenue, normally closed to traffic in front of the festival’s main gate area, will be open for westbound traffic so visitors can reach parking lots at Tomlin Middle School.
* Officers directing traffic will be kept informed of areas of congestion so they can guide motorists to roads and parking lots that are less snarled.
* The festival has purchased property to add 250 to 300 parking spaces.
Phil Waldron, who is in charge of the festival’s traffic committee, said a key will be informing motorists of the best ways to reach the festival grounds.
“People are creatures of habit. We are going to try to train them to do things differently,” he said.
During last year’s traffic jam, for example, “MLK was wide open but people didn’t know that. We need to be able to direct them to roads that are less heavily traveled,” he said.
Festival organizers met with a number of agencies — including the Florida Highway Patrol, Florida Department of Transportation and city officials — in developing the new traffic plan, festival General Manager Paul Davis said.
Traffic is a big problem and “it’s going to take a huge coordinated effort to make it better.” He added that the solutions won’t totally eliminate snarled traffic.
Davis added that traffic is a good problem to have in one sense: It means the annual celebration of King Strawberry continues to draw a crowd.