With the Umatilla County Fair in full swing and the Farm-City Pro Rodeo just beginning, Wednesday was the busiest night at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center so far. That activity translated to some major congestion in the parking area, which led to delays for people both entering and leaving the fairgrounds.
Hermiston police reported traffic backed up as far as Port Drive on Highway 395 near the water tower for about an hour in the evening as vehicles lined up to enter the fairgrounds parking lot.
Don Miller, a fair and EOTEC board member, added that police said there was no danger to driver safety, and the traffic cleared within an hour. But he said the organizers of the fair realized they needed to change the parking structure for the remaining days of the fair. Here’s what that will look like:
Starting Thursday, Miller said there will be three separate exit points. The first will be the main parking lot exit onto Airport Road.
“Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office will directly monitor traffic control at those sites to make it work smoothly,” Miller said.
The second will be the livestock exit on Ott Road, which has primarily been used for exhibitors and contestants.
The main change for exiting the fairgrounds, Miller said, is that there will now be a direct exit from the rodeo parking lot onto Ott Road.
He added that during peak hours, there would be two exits onto Airport Road: Those parked on asphalt could exit on the paved road, and those parked in the dirt parking lot could use the dirt road at the west end of the property.
Miller said fair organizers have completely restructured entry into the fairgrounds.
When patrons drive up on Airport Road, they will be met with several signs that direct them into one of four lanes. The first lane, farthest right on the paved driveway, will be reserved for rodeo traffic, buses and people picking up their children. Those cars will be forced to turn right on the asphalt parking lot and either go to the main fair gate or continue right to the rodeo grounds. The second lane — the left lane on the paved driveway — will be for season ticket holders and handicapped visitors. Those people will be directed into the main asphalt parking lot.
The final two lanes of traffic will be directed to the left of the paved driveway, onto the dirt. They will be sent to the far end of the parking lot, where they will turn left and be directed to park
“It should keep the flow good, and resolve the high degree of delays we experienced on the first big night of the fair,” Miller said.
He added that he wasn’t worried about those paying for parking slowing down the process, and that signs should be clear enough that people will know where they are supposed to be.
“We’ll have a minimum of one person in each lane doing ticketing,” he said. “We don’t think that will be any problem.”
Miller said while organizers knew there would be issues, they’ve been happy with the way different groups have worked together to solve problems.
“Whether you’re talking about parking, RVs, traffic entry, the livestock gate — this has been a brand new experience with new challenges,” he said. “The city of Hermiston, sheriff’s department, Hermiston Police Department, fire and safety, we’re all meeting every morning and reviewing the difficulties we’ve experienced on the previous day and addressing effective solutions.”