West Omaha traffic and parking pose hurdles for fans heading to state track meet

May 19, 2018

Spectators face their own hurdles at the state track meet at Burke High School.

Parking and traffic are challenges at the annual two-day event starting Friday, but finding a spot could be tougher this year for the 25,000 fans.

Parking could be tighter, partly because a building project at Burke has gobbled up about 60 spaces at the campus southwest of 120th Street and West Dodge Road. Rain in the forecast for Saturday could take an even bigger bite: If it’s wet, fans won’t be able to park in the hundreds of spaces normally available on Burke’s lawn.

Although there are no street construction projects adjacent to campus, major work in west Omaha means fans should be aware of road and lane closures as they plan their route.

“Whenever there’s an event of this magnitude there’s always parking issues, always traffic issues,’’ said Nate Neuhaus, director of track for the Nebraska School Activities Association.

The crowds are big because, unlike most state championships, all classes, boys and girls, compete at the same place and time, drawing 2,500 athletes from more than 200 schools.

And it’s not just athletes and their families who attend. The meet also draws fans who have made the annual trek to Burke High for years to support their school.

Neuhaus emphasized that while parking and traffic are always tough, organizers make the event manageable for fans. For example, more than 40 Omaha Public Schools security staff members and off-duty and on-duty Omaha police officers will be directing traffic and helping fans get parked.

Lt. John Sokolik of the Omaha Police Department’s traffic unit said that, as in past years, parking will be allowed in neighborhoods surrounding Burke. But he said cars blocking driveways or fire hydrants will be towed.

He said most of the west Omaha street construction projects aren’t close enough to Burke to cause significant problems for the folks heading to the meet.

There is a project on 114th Street about a half-mile from Burke, but others are more distant, such as construction on 168th Street, about 5 miles away, and on 144th and Pacific Streets, about 3 miles away.

Stephen Eubanks, supervisor of athletics for OPS and co-director of the meet, said a free shuttle service will give fans another option for getting to the stadium.

The shuttles will operate both days of the event, picking fans up at the northeast parking lot at Westroads Mall starting at 7 a.m. and dropping them off at Burke. The shuttles will make continuous runs both days at about 10-minute intervals between Burke and the mall, and will operate until the last fans have been dropped back at their cars.

Eubanks said this is the 47th year Burke has hosted the meet, and organizers and many spectators understand what they’re up against for the big event.

“Everybody knows the drill,’’ he said. “Be patient and plan ahead.”