Downtown Columbia will be a tangle Saturday as football fans and fair-goers pour in to cheer on the Gamecocks and hit up the State Fair.
Between the two events, more than 100,000 people are expected to be in the same few blocks at the same time, according to Lance Cpl. David Jones of the S.C. Highway Patrol.
The patrol is handling traffic, with the help of the Columbia Police Department. Jones said folks who want to attend both the fair and the game should plan to come early to find parking.
“If someone wants to come to the fair, come early – or come while the game is being played, or wait a couple hours after the game has ended, to allow some of that traffic to leave,” Jones said.
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The fair starts first, opening at 10 a.m. and going until 10 p.m. The game, meanwhile, starts at noon and is likely to last four hours.
Before the game starts, traffic on Bluff Road, Assembly Street, George Rogers Boulevard and parts of Rosewood Drive will flow only toward Williams-Brice Stadium. After the game, traffic on those streets will go in the other direction, flowing only away from the stadium.
How long will traffic be reversed after the game finishes? It depends on how heavy the traffic is. Jones estimated it could be anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours.
Folks hitting the fair before the game are in luck – a USC football ticket grants free admission to the fair before kickoff.
But those tickets don’t bring any extra parking privileges – it’s still first come, first served, said the fair’s security and parking director, Matt La Schuma. Organizers are bringing in extra deputies from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department to patrol the main parking lot at the fairgrounds.
Because of the fair, there will be no reserved Gamecocks Club parking spots, La Schuma said. Parking at the main lot is $5, and drivers should enter through Gate 6 along George Rogers Boulevard – the Assembly side of the fairgrounds – or Gate 10 along Bluff Road.
“The biggest thing we want to get across to everybody is when you come, bring some patience with you,” La Schuma said.
Gamecock fans are welcome to tailgate in the main parking lot – but, importantly, they can’t bring any grills or tents and can’t do anything that would block traffic, La Schuma said.
This year marks the 26th time in the past 32 years that a USC home game has fallen on a Saturday of the fair. So, the confluence is pretty common.
But that’s not all that’s going on Saturday.
Another big event that will bring people out to the streets – literally – is the 26th Walk for Life.
One of the city’s largest fundraising walks, the event includes a 3.1-mile walk, 5K and 10K runs and a new half-marathon. The event begins and ends at Spirit Communications Park, off Bull Street, and will run through several downtown areas and neighborhoods.
The route goes past the Robert Mills House, Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, Mann-Simons Cottage, Greek Orthodox Church, S.C. Governor’s Mansion complex, the Columbia Canal and the Earlewood Park and Elmwood Park communities.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
All lanes of traffic on Bluff Road, Assembly Street, George Rogers Boulevard and parts of Rosewood Drive will flow only toward Williams-Brice Stadium
There will be no reserved Gamecocks Club parking spots
You can get into the State Fair for free by showing your game ticket before noon
Folks who tailgate in the State Fair parking lot can’t bring grills or tents or do anything that would block traffic