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Get Ready for Graduation Gridlock Near Arena Wednesday Morning

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RALEIGH — Many commuters remember the horrendoustrafficthe last time an event happened in the morning at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. That was nothing compared to what is expected Wednesday morning, whenN.C. State's winter graduationwill be held.

Only one major event at the new Entertainment and Sports Arena started during the morning rush hour and what a mess that was. A motivational seminar created a monumental traffic jam.

Wednesday morning, the graduation rush will combine with the morning rush, as N.C. State's December graduation starts at 9 a.m. Officials want people in their seats by 8:15.

"We expect about 12,000 graduates, friends and family to show up for the graduation ceremonies," says university spokesperson Debbie Griffith.

But Griffith says the university does not expect any problems. "We don't expect a huge traffic problem, one of the main reasons being, we are not charging parking fees for the event."

Remember the Carolina Hurricanes home opener? A lack of parking-fee takers was blamed for much of that traffic trauma. And most people were not charged for parking at the motivational seminar, and there were still huge tie-ups.

TheDepartment of Transportationsays this time, its electronic message boards will warn commuters.

And there will be electronic help near the parking lots. The reverse flow traffic indicators on Edwards Mill Road will help keep traffic flowing. There will be three lanes coming into the arena before graduation and two leaving. After the ceremonies, that pattern will reverse.

"When you bring 20,000 people or 12,000 people to the arena, there's going to be delays, there's going to be traffic jams, but I think the community's gotten a little more acceptable to what's going on, and that's good for all of us," says Dave Olsen, arena vice president and general manager.

N.C. State says a morning December graduation is tradition. Drivers hope gridlock does not become part of the process.