COLUMBIA, SC — Downtown’s roads are likely to be clogged much of the day Friday. And restaurants this weekend? You might want to make sure you have a reservation.
The vice president is coming to town Friday for the University of South Carolina’s spring commencement, likely adding to the congestion that already comes with graduation.
While the specific route that Vice President Joe Biden’s motorcade will take from Columbia Metropolitan Airport to downtown’s Colonial Life Arena is unknown, the motorcade could shut down streets between the airport in West Columbia and downtown.
And traffic jams could start well before the 3 p.m. graduation. Biden is addressing a fund-raising luncheon for the S.C. Democratic Party at noon Friday, meaning downtown’s roads could be restricted from before noon to 6 p.m.
In addition, security scans will be required for those attending the ceremony, which will slow down entering the arena for the thousands of family members and friends of the Class of 2014 arriving for the ceremony.
Because of expected high turnout, USC graduates-to-be initially were issued a limited amount of family-and-friends tickets for Friday’s graduation. But, later, there was a chance for graduates to get additional tickets, said Jeff Stensland, a spokesman for the school. After that, leftover tickets were made available to any student, staff or faculty members who wished to attend on a first-come, first-serve basis, he said.
About 1,500 students will graduate on Friday, Stensland estimated, and about 12,000 guests are expected to attend.
In order to combat overcrowding, officials are encouraging guests to arrive early, allowing time for security scans. Colonial Life Arena’s main entrance doors will open at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
Purses and bags will be allowed, but they will be searched, which will slow down getting into the ceremony site. Some items will be banned for security reasons, including signs, posters, noisemakers, backpacks, briefcases and laptops.
To help with traffic, free parking and shuttles to Colonial Life Arena will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Pendleton Street, Senate Street, Horizon and Discovery parking garages.
After the ceremony, university and Columbia police will direct traffic to help clear the area, Hickman said.
Post-graduation celebrations also inevitably will crowd restaurants this weekend.
California Dreaming, a popular graduation meal restaurant, is anticipating large groups throughout the weekend because of USC’s graduation and Mother’s Day, said Mary Kate Jumper, a manager at the restaurant.
The restaurant has taken all the reservations that it will take for Friday, but walk-up seating will be available, Jumper said. At least 120 people have reservations Friday for large groups at California Dreaming.
Jumper has worked graduation seasons before and said the restaurant is very busy – “from the time that we open the doors until the time that we close.”
USC Carolina graduation ceremonies
Colonial Life Arena ceremonies:
Friday, 3 p.m. – Business, mass communications, nursing, pharmacy and public health graduates
Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – Arts and sciences, S.C. Honors College graduates
Saturday, 3 p.m. – Education, engineering and computing, hospitality, retail and sport management, Fort Jackson military base program, interdisciplinary programs, music, social work graduates
Friday, 9:30 a.m. – School of Law graduation on the Horseshoe
Friday, noon – School of Medicine graduation at the Koger Center for the Arts
Saturday, 1 p.m. – Doctoral hooding at the Koger Center for the Arts
Saturday, 10 a.m. – John Hurst Adams Gymnatorium
Saturday, 9 a.m. – Charlie W. Johnson Stadium
Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.