Traffic for new ShoWare center shouldn’t cause fuss, officials say


City officials say they expect to see few problems with traffic or parking when the new ShoWare Center opens next month.

Months of planning by city staff and consultants to handle the increased traffic for the 6,025-seat arena at 625 West James St. should pay off with few headaches for drivers.

“I think it will be a lot smoother than what people are used to at other events,” said Marni Heffron, a traffic engineer with Seattle-based Heffron Transportation, hired as a consultant by the city to oversee parking and traffic at the events center. “It’s no White River Amphitheater, with one way in and one way out.”

City officials will throw a free grand-opening party for the public to check out the city-owned ShoWare Center from 4 to 9 p.m. Jan. 2.

The Seattle Thunderbirds hockey team debuts at 7:05 p.m. Jan. 3 against the Everett Silvertips. The T-Birds play 25 games at the ShoWare Center in the next three months. Concerts, high school graduations, ice shows and other events also are slated for the arena.

“I anticipate it will go pretty smooth,” Heffron said about the traffic and parking at the events center. “There will be a learning curve. People will find their favorite parking spaces and people who want to avoid traffic in the area will use different routes. But Kent has a great grid system with multiple access points to Interstate 5 and Highway 167.”

Washington State Department of Transportation officials plan to install ShoWare Center signs within the next few weeks along I-5, Highway 167 and Highway 516 (Kent-Des Moines Road) to direct drivers to the arena.

City workers will put up signs on city streets to direct drivers to the ShoWare Center and the other free parking lots. Those lots include 850 spaces at the ShoWare Center, 793 at the James Street Park and Ride lot west of the arena and 300 spots in the evening at the Norm Maleng Regional Justice Center garage south of the events center.

There also are 109 private parking stalls within 1/4 mile of the arena.

City officials estimate those 2,052 parking spots will provide sufficient parking for most hockey games and events that draw 5,300 fans or fewer.

For larger events, there are 1,332 public and private parking spaces within 1/2 mile of the events center, according to city officials.

Parking for the events center will not be allowed at the nearby Kent Station shopping mall or the Kent Commons recreational facility. Signs will warn drivers that vehicles will be towed from those lots if they park there for the arena.

Parking also will not be allowed in the North Park neighborhood. North Park sits just east of the events center. Permits will be required to park in North Park. Vehicles without permits can be ticketed.

As far as the traffic flow, Kent Police officers will direct traffic on West James Street before and after events to help get vehicles and pedestrians in and out of the ShoWare Center as well as the Regional Justice Center and the Park and Ride lots.

“They’ll be there about an hour before an event and until it’s over,” said Kent Police Sgt. Rafael Padilla. “We’ll do an assessment after three or four events. We want to make sure we do an adequate job but also be conscious that it’s officers’ overtime money.”

Padilla said the first few T-bird games will be overstaffed by police to make sure vehicle and pedestrian traffic moves smoothly in and out of the parking lots. Two officers will direct traffic at the new intersection on West James Street at the entrances to the ShoWare Center and Regional Justice Center.

“Our main priority is to get everyone there smoothly and keep the impact to the regular traffic to a minimum,” Padilla said.

During events, officers plan to patrol the three main parking lots to keep an eye out for car prowlers or thieves. Police also will handle any incident calls at the arena parking lot, such as drinking alcohol in vehicles. No tailgating parties will be allowed at the ShoWare Center.

An officer will staff the railroad crossing just west of the arena to help pedestrians get across the tracks. City officials plan to eventually have a pedestrian-crossing gate installed at the tracks.

The start time of Thunderbird games on Friday nights was pushed to 7:35 p.m. from the regular starting time of 7:05 p.m. in order to allow the heavier Friday traffic to clear out before the start of the game, Heffron said. She also added that studies show 70 percent of hockey fans show up between 30 minutes before the game and 30 minutes after the start of the game.

“It’s a late-arriving crowd,” Heffron said. “There are three periods in hockey and people skip the first one. We expect the bulk of the crowd to arrive at 6:30 for a 7:05 game.”

That type of information helped police to plan traffic patrols.

“I anticipate that it will go fairly smooth,” Padilla said of the traffic flow. “The city has done a real good job to be as prepared as can be.”

With two driveways for drivers to exit the 850-stall lot at the ShoWare Center, Heffron expects fans will get out much quicker than those who park at the garage across from Safeco Field to watch the Mariners play in Seattle.

“Compare that to a 2,000-car garage with one driveway,” Heffron said.

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