When Larry Perkins noticed cars pulling into the PNC Arena parking lot nearly seven hours before the start of the Carolina Hurricanes’ game on Monday, he knew playoff hockey was back.
Perkins, the assistant general manager of PNC Arena, also knew there would be some traffic headaches for the fans who couldn’t get a headstart on tailgating before the Canes’ first-round playoff matchup with the Washington Capitals.
By the time the puck dropped for the start of Game 3, a 5-0 win for the Canes, most of the fans who were snarled in traffic on Wade Avenue and Blue Ridge Road had found their way into the arena.
“While we hate to see traffic back up anywhere, I’m happy to say at puck-drop, about 95 percent of the fans were in the building,” Perkins said.
The team’s first home playoff game since 2009 was the first sellout since the season-opener in October. The team had an average attendance of 14,323 during the regular season but an overflow crowd of 18,783 on Monday (18,680 is the capacity for the arena’s hockey setup).
The diehards and tailgate aficionados beat the traffic with no problem. The fans trying to get into the parking lot area after 6 p.m. had a more difficult time.
That’s because the arena parking lot hit its capacity of 4,000 spots. The main entrance on Edwards Mill was closed off by the Raleigh Police Department about 45 minutes before the game started.
RPD closed off the Wade Avenue exit ramp to Edwards Mill at 6:07 p.m., Perkins said. That caused some backups on Wade and confusion.
The police working the Edwards Mill entrance were directing cars to the Blue Ridge Road exit off of Wade and funneling cars through the Westchase Road and Trinity Road entrances.
Perkins said there was a logistics and security planning meeting last week with arena personnel, the RPD, the NC Department of Transportation, the National Guard and the FBI. The shutdown of the main entrance on Edwards Mill was by design.
“It’s a whole process,” Perkins said. “We had every possible street staffed and ready.”
The early part of the evening went smoothly, but once the arena lot hit capacity, there were some unavoidable delays.
“When you’re dealing with a weekday event, there’s going to be commuter traffic as well,” Perkins said.
The backup of cars and commuters on Wade and Blue Ridge were “sheer volume” issues, not logistics, Perkins said.
“Once we shut the property down, that obviously takes away some of the main staging areas that we have around the property,” Perkins said.
There are an additional 4,000 parking spots in the Carter-Finley Stadium lots, Perkins said, and those are the best option for fans who can’t get to the arena before 6 p.m.
There were 110 arena members of the arena staff working in the parking lots, Perkins said. The general parking cost is $20. There are prepaid parking options, at the time of the ticket purchase, Perkins said.
There are also alternate options to getting to the game. Perkins said between 400 and 500 cars used the Uber or Lyft dropoff area.
Caniac Coach buses also run from downtown and North Hills to the arena and there’s a GoTriangle bus that picks up fans at the Crabtree Valley Mall.
For the fans going to Game 4 on Thursday night, also a 7 p.m. start, Perkins said the best way to avoid traffic issues is to get to the arena early. If you’re running late, avoid Edwards Mill and plan on taking a different entrance.
And, Perkins said, there is one other way hockey fans can get an assist.
“If you’re not going to the game, please take a different route and avoid the area,” he said.