Sweet Sixteen and NCAA tournaments could bring thousands of people, cars to downtown Lexington

jmadden@herald-leader.comMarch 19, 2014 

High school basketball fans darted across High Street as Lexington police directed traffic after the Hopkinsville-South Oldham first-round game at Rupp Arena on Wednesday.

PABLO ALCALA — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Driving and parking tips

    ■ When driving into the city, be patient as traffic may be congested at times.

    ■ If you don't have to be downtown or near the arena, avoid it.

    ■ If you are traveling from outside of Lexington be aware of parking. If parking lots are full, use garages or street parking.

    Source: Lexington Division of Police

For the next five days, downtown Lexington will be filled with pedestrians, cars coming and going on the city's major arteries and officers orchestrating traffic to avoid snarls. Why?

Rupp Arena is hosting the 2014 Whitaker Bank/KHSAA Boys' Sweet Sixteen basketball tournament, which kicked off Wednesday and continues through Sunday. Lexington police began putting their traffic plan to work Wednesday.

The tournament, held at Rupp for the past 25 years, typically draws 100,000 fans throughout the five-day event, said Carl Hall, director of arena management. That means thousands of people will be moving in and out of Rupp Arena, which has a capacity of 23,000, and spilling into Lexington's streets.

On top of that, teams and fans heading to Memorial Coliseum — which is just short of a mile from Rupp — to watch the first two rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament will add to the potential for gridlock. The 10th-ranked Cats (24-8) will meet Wright State (26-8) in the first round at 11 a.m. Saturday. Syracuse (22-9) is playing Chattanooga (29-3) at 1:30 p.m. (The second round is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday.)

Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said the department's traffic unit, along with other patrol officers, will be at assigned locations directing traffic and handling crowd control.

"We'll have a traffic control plan to make sure that as games are starting and ending that traffic will be flowing to and from Lexington Convention Center," Roberts said. "The plan that we've had has worked pretty well and will be similar to what people have seen in years past."

She said planning for the event creates some difficulty, because of the back-to-back games and the influx of people who aren't familiar with Lexington's streets. In the past, they've had people drive the wrong way on one-way streets and park in foreign places.

To combat those issues, she said, police will be patrolling the surrounding streets, including Tates Creek Road, Versailles Road and High Street.

"For the most part, the people who are coming are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles coming to support the young people and show their school spirit," Roberts said.

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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