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Driving to the fair today? Expect to wait in traffic

If you plan driving to the Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, be ready to sit in traffic. Roads leading to the fairgrounds have been packed all day, although delays just after lunch were starting to subside just a tad. Still, drivers attempting travel on Como Avenue were still spending 30 minutes in traffic, fair officials said.

Even those heading to off-site parking lots are experiencing congestion. By mid afternoon, 75 percent of parking spaces at the fair's park and ride lots were taken.

Things are not likely to get better. Large crowds are expected for the sold out Grandstand show featuring Def Leppard and STYX will start showing up in a few hours.

Opening day drew huge crowds, more than usual at least by casual observation, said fair spokeswoman Brianna Schutte. "It's been a long time since I've seen an opening day like this. It's been a busy busy day."

Traffic jams on Hwy. 280, Larpenteur Avenue, Como Avenue and Snelling Avenue forced some early fairgoers this morning to get stuck in traffic for up to 30 minutes. Schutte attributed that to a high demand for parking, which saw lots that normally don't fill up until 9 a.m. to be full by 7:30 a.m.

Mainine routes saw some backups at ramp on Hwy. 36 at Snelling Avenue, I-94 at Snelling Avenue and on Hwy. 280 at Como Avenue and Energy Park Drive, said Brian Kary, a MnDOT spoksman.

"Where people experience congestion is more on the local system," he said. "We do see some backups and delays on those interchange points leading to the fairgrounds"

Contributing to the congestion was that many fairgoers are creatures of habit, she said, and went to their favorite lot. For many, that used to be on the west end of the fairgrounds. The new transportation center put in last year wiped out many of those spots, and the limited number that remained were snapped up in a hurry.

That forced many drivers to circle the fairgrounds and head to expanded lots on Como Avenue on the south end. That made Como busier than normal, she said.

Though the fairgrounds have 9,000 spots at $13 per vehicle, Schutte said that people "should not expect to get a spot." A backup plan should be to use one of the fair's park and ride lots with free shuttles to the grounds. "Or come by bicycle," she said.

By mid afternoon, 75 percent of parking spaces at the fair's park and ride lots were taken.

"It's always challenging on opening day," Schutte said. "The bottom line is that the fair does not get a soft opening. We have to work the kinks out."

State Fair express buses operated by Metro Transit were busy, too. One lot, the one on County Road 73 and I-394 filled up at 9:30 a.m., said Drew Kerr, a transit agency spokesman. He said fairgoers in the west metro can use the lot at Parade Stadium as an alternate until space becomes available. All other lots still had space as of mid-afternoon, he said.

"We've still got plenty of room for fairgoers who want to avoid congestion," he said. "Anybody heading to the fair today or during the 12-day run should consider trading time stuck in traffic for time sharing the ride with their fellow fairgoers."

Traffic was loosening around the fairgrounds just after lunch, Schutte said. But with the evening commute and a big grandstand show on tap Thursday, traffic likely will be at a crawl once again.

"People will need to be patient," Schutte said.


 

Your guide to getting to the Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair has it all - carnival rides, games, mini-doughnuts, exhibits galore and primo people watching. But to take it all in you have to get there.

With 1.8 million people expected to pass through the turnstiles over the next 12 days (Thursday through Labor Day), fairgoers should do a little planning before leaving home, says spokeswoman Brianna Schutte.  The fair's 260 employees manning Park & Ride lots and parking lots and serving as bus ambassadors stand ready to help fairgoers. Here are a few tips for those arriving by car, bus, bicycle, motorcycle or on foot.

Parking

The Great Minnesota Get Together has 9,000 on-site parking spaces, but to snap one of those up the best advice is to come early. Lots off Como Avenue and smaller parking facilities off Larpenteur Avenue and Hoyt Avenue generally fill up by mid-morning, Schutte said. Later in the day when lots are full, attendants will wave drivers right on by.   Those lucky enough to get a spot, the fee this year is $13, and advanced tickets can not be used in lieu of cash.

By BUS

Taking the bus is one of the most fun parts of attending the fair, Schutte said. And a new transit hub that debuted last year made it more efficient for those who choose this option. Nearly half of people attending the fair come on a bus, be that a free fair shuttle, express bus or a regular route transit.

Park and Ride

The State Fair operates free shuttles from 33 parking lots near the fairgrounds. The shuttles run from 8 a.m. to midnight  with service every 20 minutes. Not all the lots are open everyday and some are only available on weekends and Labor Day, so check the schedule and locations here

The most popular lots are at the University of Minnesota, Roseville High School and Grace Church Roseville. If those are full, attendants on site "will help you find the closest lot that is not full," Schutte said.

Express Bus Service

Metro Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit and SouthWest Transit will provide round-trip service for $5 from 21 different sites. Some locations will have daily service while others will have only weekday or weekend service. To check hours and locations click here.

Express buses arrive and depart at the State Fair Transit Hub, which is on the west side of the fairgrounds near West End Market.

Regular transit service

Metro Transit routes 960, 84, 61 and 3 serve the fairgrounds directly. The Green Line runs along University Avenue and transfers to Route 84 at Snelling will get fairgoers to the grounds. Fares are $1.75 during off peak hours and $2.25 during peak periods, Transfers between rail lines and bus lines are free.

Motorcycle

Those who arrive in two wheels can park for only $7 at the International Institute of Minnesota, on Como west of Snelling Avenue.  There is a lot specifically for motorcycles there. Bikers can park in other State Fair lots, but the charge is $13.

Bicycle

The State Fair has three corrals that operate similar to a coat-check system. Bicyclists can park their two-wheelers in a monitored area, take a number and retrieve their bikes at the end of the day. Bike parking is free.

If you need more help, call the State Fair transportation line at 651-288-4400.