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Shuttle eases fair traffic

What's almost as traditional as the 180-year-old Topsfield Fair? Topsfield Fair traffic.

But if you're driving to and from or anywhere near the fair today or tomorrow, you'll be traveling with a little less stress.

That's because a determined group of residents has figured out how to reduce some of the traffic that has become as well known as the fair itself.

A new weekend shuttle service has been transporting passengers between the Route 1 fairgrounds and the parking lot at the Masconomet Regional Middle School and High School complex on Endicott Road in Topsfield. Under the direction of Glenn Walker, director of operations at Masconomet and a Topsfield reserve patrol officer, the shuttle service began last Saturday, on the first day of the fair. It will continue through the closing of the fair tomorrow.

"It's worked very well," said Walker. "We've heard a lot of positive feedback from people. It's benefiting fairgoers, the student volunteers, the nearby residents, and the fair itself."

Those taking advantage of the service pay $5 to park in the Masconomet lot and hop aboard an English-style, double-decker bus, on which they can enjoy a pleasant five-minute ride to the fairgrounds through an exclusive back-road route patrolled by local police. By using the bus, patrons avoid the $7-$10 lots near the fairgrounds, which are often full by noon. They also avoid the traffic that clogs main roads leading to the fair.

Police Chief Dan O'Shea has suggested such a service for many years, according to Walker. This year, Topsfield Fair general manager Al Craig and the Topsfield School Committee agreed to the plan, Walker said.

The shuttle service begins at noon and continues after the last patrons leave the fairgrounds, when it closes at 10 p.m. Members of various Masconomet athletic teams and student organizations volunteer to direct cars in the school lot. Coaches, faculty members, and parents assist them. All parking fees go to student groups. The Topsfield Fair pays for the buses, including two double-deckers and, when necessary, two yellow school buses and a van that is handicapped-accessible.

A police detail provides security at the lot throughout the day, Walker said. Students sell bottled water and doughnuts at the lot, and portable toilets are set up near the entrance.

Walker said the shuttle service has alleviated much of the traffic that backs up on Interstate 95 and Route 1. Electronic message boards on Route 1 north in Danvers and approaching exit 50 on I-95 north, and on I-95 south before exit 54, alert motorists to the availability of the shuttle service, significantly reducing the backup at exit 50, the fairgrounds exit, where drivers have sat in traffic for up to 90 minutes. The parking at Masconomet is located off exit 51.

The shuttle service also has reduced traffic on local roads near the fairgrounds, to the delight of residents who for years have struggled to get out of their driveways during the fair.

"I've talked to some residents who can't believe it," Walker said. "They want to know what happened to the traffic."

On the first day of the fair, 150 motorists took advantage of the shuttle service. The next day brought in some 500 cars, Walker said. The school lot can accommodate 680 cars on asphalt and almost three times as many if the athletic fields are used, he said.

Walker said he has had no problem recruiting student volunteers for the service. "Since all the money goes to the kids, it's pretty much a no-brainer fund-raising effort," he said. Participating groups have included the high school's boys' lacrosse team and members of the classes of 2006 and 2007.

Given the success this year, Walker said he expects the shuttle service will return for next year's Topsfield Fair.

"So far we've heard nothing but positive feedback," he said. "The fair [management] realizes that if people have to sit in traffic too long, they'll turn around and go home and won't come back again. Any time you can reduce traffic and makes things easier for people, it's a good thing."

We tend to agree.

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