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Sunday's Steelers, Pirates crossover will cause traffic and parking snarls

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 1:02 p.m.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh's North Shore. Monday, Dec. 30, 2013.

Michael Griffith has had Sunday's game plan in place longer than the Steelers. Tailgating for up to 50 people involves serious logistics, but the 30 racks of St. Louis ribs, industrial grill and copious amounts of food and drink are ready to go.

There is just one problem: Go where? A rare day-night doubleheader involving the Pirates and Steelers on the North Shore threatens to cause major traffic and parking problems and disrupt the sacred institution of hard-core tailgating.

“This game has been on our agenda because we have customers coming in,” said Griffith, an engineer with a plastics company in Washington. “Night games are special. It's a little more exciting than tailgating in the morning. These are the ones we plan first.”

But those plans appear to be going awry. Steelers fans accustomed to showing up several hours before kickoff will find most of the parking spaces occupied by cars belonging to Pirates fans.

Griffith and others were unaware that, before the Steelers and Bears kick off about 8:30 p.m. at Heinz Field, the Pirates will play the Cincinnati Reds down the street at PNC Park at 1:35 p.m.

It is the last regular-season home game for the Pirates. It also has big postseason implications, and a sellout is expected. Steelers games have been sellouts for decades. Even if the baseball game takes three hours (the average these days), there is little cushion between games. Steelers fans like to arrive early to start tailgating. Under normal circumstances, they are allowed into the parking lots around the stadiums five hours before kickoff.

These are not normal circumstances.

“This will create a unique experience for both teams' fans,” said Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten, who held a news conference on Wednesday to outline the measures that will be taken to deal with the situation. “Fans will still be able to tailgate, just not as early they usually do.”

Pittsburgh police Lt. Tom Atkins was less optimistic.

“If you think you're gonna come down here and tailgate, I don't think that will be realistic,” said Atkins, who has been responsible for the police staffing of Pirates games since 1998.

This is the first time for this scenario since 2004. Perhaps as many as 100,000 people will be coming and going within a relatively small radius during a short period of time. In an extraordinary measure, Atkins devised a plan to block all traffic into North Shore areas near the stadiums from 4 to 6 p.m.

“Before we can get people in, we have to get people out,” he said.

Pirates fans are being asked to leave as quickly as possible after the end of the game.

The Steelers, who have posted information on their website and will use social media to inform fans of developments, are asking fans to arrive no earlier than 6 p.m. “Basically, we're counting on a great deal of respect between Pirates fans and Steelers fans,” Alco Parking President Merrill Stabile said.

The Steelers, Pittsburgh Parking Authority and Alco, which owns 19 garages and lots around the stadiums, also are urging fans to use alternative parking Downtown, priced at $2 to $5, in the Strip District and elsewhere. Many parking facilities are near the light-rail T.

As for what happens in the North Shore, “All the planning and trying to appease all the entities involved, it's just an impossible feat,” Atkins said. “No matter what we do, people will be upset. If people will listen, this will go like clockwork. ... But if they think they're gonna get into their lot at 6:05, it's not gonna work.”

Griffith said he is undecided about his plans. Late Wednesday afternoon, he said a friend had just forwarded an email from a Steelers fan who decided to forgo the game entirely because the hassle just wasn't worth it.

“I've got people saying, ‘If I can't tailgate, I won't even go to the game,' ” Griffith said.

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter@BCohn_Trib.

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