J.I. Festival of Lights set to bring in holiday spirit, heavy traffic

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The James Island Holiday Festival of Lights kicks off Friday.

The annual event brings an estimated 200,000 visitors to the island each year. But the influx of visitors also brings about traffic problems for residents in the area.

People who live on Central Park road experience some of the worst of the traffic. They said that at some points it becomes bumper to bumper throughout the entire Island.

Pastor Charles Seabrook lives on Central Park Road.

“[I wait] 45 minutes or longer because it’s from Folly Road to Riverland Drive, and no matter where I come in I still have to wait,” Seabrook said.

Others said that the traffic for the festival starts almost a mile and a half down the road from the County Park.

Seabrook’s wife said that the congestion also happens because of people trying to take shortcuts around main roads, and then the cars wedge themselves into the traffic.

“People are taking side streets trying to get in to try to see the lights, she said. “Wherever you go, there’s no way out.”

The Charleston County Park & Recreation Committee sent a list of ways they are trying to help cut down on traffic. It states:

"We are consistently looking for additional ways to improve our operation of the Holiday Festival of Lights. While the show is an important part of this community, we recognize the need to be good neighbors with our friends who live and travel near the park.

A few of the steps we’ve taken in an effort to help alleviate traffic congestion include: efforts to encourage weekday attendance, staging vehicles in the park, increasing staffing, working with the Sherriff’s Office, and promoting alternative routes."

CCPRC officials offered this additional information on their efforts to prevent or reduce traffic delays:

Driving Visitors to Weekdays

HFOL attendance and traffic is historically highest on Fridays and Saturdays, so the Charleston County Parks & Recreation Committee has taken several steps to help drive more traffic to other days. On Monday through Thursday, they offer a $5 discount when visitors bring a canned food item. Special programs and free entertainment on weekdays are also offered to attract visitors on those days. These steps have helped decrease attendance by a couple of thousand people on select weekends.

Vehicle Staging

To minimize the amount of time cars spend on Riverland Drive, CCPRC officials “stage” vehicles prior to park opening to save time and room on the road. Early-arriving vehicles pay admission as soon as they arrive, then are moved as far into the park as possible to allow for traffic behind to move forward.

Gate Staffing

On Friday and Saturday evenings, CCPRC as much as triples the number of gate staff to help process traffic as rapidly as possible. The 1630 AM radio station, which is promoted via signage along Riverland Drive, provides listeners with useful information to speed along the admission process at the gate.

Alternative Routes

As Central Park tends to be the busiest route, accessing the park via Camp, George Griffith, or Grimball Roads is encouraged as the course of travel to HFOL.

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