Postgame gridlock gets Oxford, UM focus

OleMissLogoBy Errol Castens

Daily Journal

OXFORD – After Texas A&M beat Ole Miss with a last-second field goal, fans left the gridiron only to find themselves in gridlock.

Tupeloan David Brevard visited with friends until about 12:30 a.m., when he returned to his car.

“The line of traffic attempting to leave the parking lot was (still) at a standstill,” he told the Daily Journal. “We arrived home in Tupelo at 2:20 a.m. due to the waiting time in the traffic.”

Even the shuttle system for off-campus parking proved to be a failure in some people’s eyes. Heather Walters said she and her husband parked at Oxford Conference Center and waited on a return shuttle for two hours and 45 minutes after the game, only to have one driver disembark and walk away, announcing he was through for the day.

Orma Smith of Corinth tweeted several times about the traffic. His last tweet joked, “How much are those condos on University Avenue? Value just doubled whatever they cost. #trafficfailure.”

Oxford Mayor Pat Patterson said several factors converged to create the traffic snarl.

“I think (City Engineer) Bart Robinson put it best,” he said. “It was a perfect storm: It had rained, it was a night game that went to the last second, and you had 60,000 people who stayed to the very end and wanted to leave all at the same time.”

“It just overloaded our infrastructure. We’re a small town,” said Jimmy Allgood, Oxford’s emergency manager and gameday coordinator. He said other university towns warn fans to plan for a two- to four-hour exit process.

One traffic-flow experiment implemented for the A&M game, funneling vehicles away from campus and downtown via Molly Barr Road, will not be repeated.

Ole Miss Athletics issued a statement that shuttle pickup sites will be more clearly marked and that “from here forward, we will use all possible lanes for exiting traffic.”

Oxford Police Chief Joey East said more security officers will be hired to enhance pedestrian safety.

“They’re having to walk such far distances to get to their cars,” he said. “You’re trying to cross four or five lanes of traffic. We’re bringing in more people to help with that.”

East also said more private security officers will mean more officers will be available to handle postgame disturbances that sometimes come with this weekend’s archrivalry with LSU.

“We’re bringing in extra people with traffic so we’ll have extra officers to batten down the hatches,” he said. “We hope people will behave like adults, and we’re going to be ready.”

Not everyone’s traffic experience was nightmarish. Hugh Sloan IV said it took him longer than usual to get onto campus to help other Civil Air Patrol members with postgame cleanup and had to risk a ticket for illegal parking but was philosophical about it.

“So by this limited sample, one-way off campus is no worse than gridlocked two-way,” he said. “There were what, 100,000 people on campus?”

City and university officials will meet today to discuss other adjustments for this weekend’s game in which Ole Miss will host LSU.

errol.castens@journalinc.com