Fairgoers face transit, parking challenges as attendance rises

Fairgoers face transit, parking challenges as attendance rises

Fairgoers face transit, parking challenges as attendance rises

Buses were packed with dozens of excited fairgoers on a Wednesday afternoon. Every day of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the state fair offers free park and ride in 31 locations, but finding a parking spot isn’t always that easy. 

Hannah Gelhar and her friends parked at the MN Office Plaza lot, but it wasn’t their first choice. 

“We planned on meeting at a church and the church parking lot was full, so we looked for something that was close by. So, we came here and thankfully there was enough parking,” said Gelhar. 

When the group of friends got there, they still had to wait in line for the shuttle. A state fair staff member told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS just a day before, the waiting line wrapped around the block.

“It was like 300 people. It was a wait. It was an hour wait to get on the bus and a two-hour wait to get into the fair itself. It was bad,” said TJ Mitchell, a park and ride staff. “You know, it gets really busy with the parking lot coming in and out.” 

Mitchell says the morning rush and the high traffic near the fairground is what causes some of these delays. 

In a statement, a State Fair spokesperson said, “The Park & Ride service operated by the Minnesota State Fair is a park-free, ride-free service, and demand for this free service has been high for several years. This year is no exception. While we don’t have data about park & ride use at the present time, anecdotally, it feels like we’ve bounced back to pre-pandemic demand. Because demand is high, we encourage people to have a Plan B if the lines get long.”

State Fair officials list alternatives such as Uber/Lyft/taxi, mass transit, biking and more. 

Metro Transit has four of its own park and ride locations. While their services are not free, they see thousands of people a day. 

“We’re at almost 150,000 rides just through the first six days,” said Brain Funk, the Metro Transit Deputy General Manager. “So, you can imagine, we’re putting all of the buses and of course, our operator resources into doing this to give everybody a good experience.”

The on-site parking at County Road 73/I-394 in Minnetonka and at the Cottage Grove site have each reached capacity on multiple days. In both cases, Metro Transit customers have used designated parking along adjacent frontage roads until parking stalls become available for customers returning from the fairgrounds.

Metro Transit has over 100 buses dedicated to the state fair. Some days, riders could be waiting in line for half an hour. With the expected influx this weekend, Funk says there are plans to add more buses. 

“We’re able to move in and out of traffic really effectively. All of these express sites are able to use a dedicated transit lane between the University of Minnesota and the fairgrounds. And so we’re not mixed in with general traffic around the fairgrounds, which is what you’re going to experience if you try to drive all the way in,” Funk explained. 

If riders cannot find parking at a park-and-ride location, Funk says they can also take public transit to the fair, such as Route 3 and A Line BRT, which can be used to reach the fairgrounds. 

Whatever you decide to do, fair fans say the key is patience. 

“You just have to be patient, like I said, and it’s totally 100 percent worth it. The fair’s the best part of the year I think,” said Gelhar. 

Metro Transit says next year, the number of park-and-rides will be based on operator and bus/equipment resource forecasts.