Officials have their plans for dealing with the crush of traffic headed to the Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club this week, and Harold Thomas has his.
"I'm going to buy a big bottle of vodka and stay home," the Gainesville resident said, jokingly, this week. "It's going to be rough out there."
Indeed, roads were packed the last time the world-class golf tournament came to Prince William County. Five years later, traffic is only worse in the booming, perpetually-under-construction western half of Prince William. About 53,000 cars a day traveled Route 29 near Interstate 66 five years ago, compared with 64,000 daily in 2004, according to state transportation officials.
In addition, tournament officials expect about 20,000 spectators a day, plus the motorcades ushering in VIPs such as former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, who were scheduled to attend the tournament today.
Transportation and tournament officials have been warning drivers since last week with ominous "expect delay" signs along I-66 and other area roads. Prince William County, with assistance from several other jurisdictions, will have approximately 100 law enforcement officers posted at intersections in the Gainesville area to keep traffic flowing. And the Virginia Department of Transportation has temporarily halted construction along I-66 so that all lanes are open.
Even so, "you can't stop the congestion," VDOT spokesman Ryan Hall said.
"There's only so much you can do to ease the traffic," Hall said. "In essence, I-66 and other roads are pretty much the same as they were five years ago. Now we have construction to widen I-66, but that won't be finished until October 2006. . . . And there are very few spot improvements."
Some residents of the Gainesville and Haymarket areas have adopted an attitude of sedate acceptance that they've learned is requisite for coping with traffic jams that seem inevitable and unavoidable.
"We're prepared," said Marcie Turnau, who lives in the Bridlewood Manor development off Linton Hall Road. "Mentally prepared."
VDOT's warning signs are of little use, she said, because she still has to drive to work and run errands, and alternate routes in the area are few and far between. Plus, most of the new gated developments have only one entrance.
"I could take Route 50 to 15," Turnau said, thinking out loud. "But 15 gets backed up. And 29, of course, is horrendous."
Others were preparing for the tournament as though it were an approaching storm.
"It is a storm," said Nina Smith, who was stocking up on provisions Tuesday at the SuperTarget in Gainesville. "It's a people storm."
For those attending the tournament, Presidents Cup officials said they have taken steps to avoid the tie-ups that plagued the first day of the tournament in 2000, causing some spectators to wait three hours for shuttles back to their cars. It was so bad that officials apologized publicly the next day.
"We've worked very hard to make sure we didn't have any Thursdays this time," said George Burger, general chairman of the tournament, referring to that day five years ago.
There were 31 buses in operation then, and there will be 70 during peak hours this time, plus more parking areas. Instead of one, there are two for the general public -- at Nissan Pavilion at Stone Ridge and Buckland Farm. In addition, there is a corporate lot at Camp Snyder off I-66 Exit 40, and people picking up will call tickets are being directed to Heritage Hunt Golf and Country Club, off I-66 Exit 43-B.
"We've spent an enormous amount of time on our transportation plan," Burger said. "We try to be prepared for contingencies, but in Northern Virginia, as we all know, it only takes one bad thing to block you up for awhile."
The Presidents Cup and the traffic that comes with it continue through Sunday.