Just as the Vikings will be auditioning new players during Friday night's preseason opener, the game against the Oakland Raiders will serve as a test run for fans trying to get to the team's new home for the next two seasons, TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota.
The U is always a congested place and that will exacerbated by the fact that fans will have to fight Friday's notoriously bad rush hour traffic to get to their seats in time for the 7 p.m. kickoff. But Tim Busse, communications director for the U's Parking Services department says the school has a traffic management plan in place to keep cars and pedestrians moving. His advice: "Arrive early, have a plan in place and know where you are going."
The good news is that there are plenty of options, and fans won't have to totally abandon old routines. Fans can park in the same ramps and lots that they did when games were played at the Metrodome and hop a Green Line train from the Downtown East Station in Minneapolis over to the campus. Get a 6-Hour Event Pass when you board to avoid standing in line to buy a return ticket.
Trains stop at the Stadium Village Station, right across the street from the gridiron. Bus routes 2, 3, 6 and 16 stop at or near TCF Bank Stadium. Metro Transit also will run Northstar service, departing Big Lake at 5:06 p.m. and arriving at Target Field at 5:55 p.m. From there, take a Green Line train to the U.
Taking the Blue Line into downtown and transferring to a Green Line train at the Downtown East station also is an option. Take note that trains will not pick up or drop off passengers at the 50th Street or VA Medical Center stations due to construction work.
Football fans will be descending on the U as commuters try to make their way out of downtown Minneapolis meaning gridlock is a real possibility. Expect ramp jams on I-94 at Huron Blvd. and on I-35W at the University Avenue/4th Street exits, the two main ways to get to campus from the freeways.
Both freeways usually start plugging up around 2 p.m. on Fridays, so traffic could be insane, especially in the three hours before kickoff. Even Hwy. 280 will likely see increased traffic, and expect a surge in traffic on University Avenue, Hennepin Avenue, Washington Avenue and 15th Avenue SE.
To help matters, police officers will be stationed at key intersections to help with traffic flow. Traffic lights on campus streets will be timed to favor in-bound traffic pregame and outbound traffic post game. The U also has electronic message signs to beam pertinent traffic and parking information to motorists, Busse said.
Some roads will be restricted after the game and officers will direct traffic to the freeways along a specific route. This warning from the University Parking and Transportation Services: "Because of limited road capacity around the stadium, fans should anticipate that streets around campus will be congested for about one hour after the game. Incidents on the roadways or freeways can increase exiting time."
Here is another tip for fans from the south metro. Be like Cinderella and get off campus before midnight, or you might be taking the long way home. MnDOT will close southbound I-35W. MnDOT from Hiawatha Avenue/Hwy. 55 to 46th Street at midnight. The detour will be via westbound 94 to westbound 394 to southbound Hwy. 100 to eastbound Hwy. 62.
Parking on campus will be at a premium, so the best option might be to park at the Gortner Avenue ramp on the St. Paul campus and take a shuttle to campus. Football shuttles will run every 10 minutes starting three hours before the game. After the game, buses will run continuously until the crowd is cleared. The football shuttle to St. Paul picks up fans on the Transitway between 23rd and 25th Avenues (north of the Minnesota Lot). Parking and bus service cost $20.
Many spots on campus will already be spoken for by those with season tickets and who have pre-ordered passes. Campus lots open to football fans about 3 to 4 hours before kickoff. Keep in mind Friday is a work day for school employees so some spaces will be occupied. Tailgating is allowed in certain lots. Check with the parking attendant before firing up the grill.
Single game parking is based on availability, and for Friday Busse said there are still spots open. It's cash only, but Busse said fans should use the 4th Street, Oak Street and East River Road Parking Garage. As a parking facility fills, parking attendants may direct you to the nearest available location, the University said. Here is more information on parking options and costs.