Search on for traffic solutions

 

It was the perfect storm.

On the third day of the Masters Tournament, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods finished late, diners headed for the dinner dates at busy restaurants and bars along Washington Road and "cruisers" came out to see the action.

"That was the first time I've been here that we just couldn't get Washington Road cleared," said Steve Cassell, Richmond County's traffic engineer.

It will be his job in the coming weeks to go over this year's Masters experiences and determine what he, the sheriff's office and Augusta National Golf Club can do differently next year.

Measures such as adjusting turn lanes and altering the patterns of departing patrons are a possibility, he said. More message signs might also help.

"We've talked about further turn restrictions and things like that, but nothing's been finalized," he said.

One thing that could change next year is greater use of Alexander Drive for departing Masters traffic, Cassell said.

Work on expanding the road has begun, and if completed by next year it could mean an extra route away from Washington Road.

Still, incoming traffic is not likely to use the road. Cassell said that creates the problem of having golf traffic cross golf traffic at the same intersection and would only slow things down, he said.

"If you got them crossing each other and turning, then they are competing for green time at the signal," Cassell said.

Traffic patterns remained relatively unchanged from last year, but officials quickly discovered how unpredictable Masters traffic can be.

From lengthy backups along Berckmans Road to impatient patrons hopping curbs and driving through barrier ropes, traffic at the tournament presented unforeseen challenges.

Cassell said the roads quickly reached capacity April 10 as thousands left the tournament at once, while at the same time others returned to Washington Road for dinner or for one of the many Masters-related parties being held along the strip.

Cassell said he watched as some people simply cruised up and down the road -- windows down and music blaring -- for a chance to check things out.

"If you looked at the license plates, 75 percent of them were from Richmond and Columbia County," Cassell said. "They had no reason to go down there. They knew what was going on."

Still, every day of traffic at the tournament was not like Saturday.

Throughout the week, traffic flowed relatively smoothly, considering the extra cars on the road, Cassell said.

On Thursday and Friday two groups left the lots en masse -- the ones who departed after Tiger finished playing and everyone else.

One big problem was inside Augusta National's new 8,000-spot free parking area.

Though a bevy of young parking attendants were on hand in the morning to direct patrons to parking spots, by the evening few were to be found, some patrons complained.

Haphazard lines formed as patrons converged on the exits Saturday. Line-jumpers caused some in the back to wait hours.

Tom Briar, a spokesman for Country Club Services, a private firm hired by the Augusta National to manage the lots, said he was not able to discuss any parking plans until he speaks with representatives of the Augusta National.

An Augusta National spokesman took written questions about traffic problems at midweek but had not responded late Friday.