Foxborough and State Police are preparing a multipronged plan to avert traffic hell next month when the ninth annual New England Country Music Festival rolls into town.
Part of the strategy this year will be to hold cars heading to Gillette Stadium in storage lanes on Interstates 95 and 495 before the concerts until parking lots open.
Last year, the popular festival featuring Kenny Chesney — and this year including fellow country star Tim McGraw — stopped traffic dead when thousands of cars converging on Foxborough found themselves with nowhere to go.
Parking lots at Gillette and elsewhere are prohibited from opening before 2 p.m. for the festival, which starts 2½ hours later, because of historically rampant drinking and partying.
This year, Foxborough Police Chief Edward O’Leary said he thinks the new plan will help.
In January, selectmen preliminarily approved the license for the Aug. 24 and 25 event as long as O’Leary came back with a way to ease concerns not only on Foxborough roads but also those in surrounding towns.
After meeting with stadium management, State Police, and officials in neighboring Walpole, O’Leary released a plan that calls for temporarily diverting cars to holding lanes marked off by construction cones on the area’s major highways. He will also oversee a plan to open and close other roads, as needed, to keep vehicles moving and lessen the effect on neighborhoods.
“The intent is to have cars away from Route 1, and then slowly move them to the stadium when the parking lots open at 2 p.m.,’’ O’Leary said.
Jeff Cournoyer, a spokesman for The Kraft Group, the organization that owns the stadium and books the concerts, said the company is working closely with O’Leary, his team, and State Police to continue to improve traffic management and address public safety issues.
“It has been a successful partnership,’’ he said.
The music festival, which draws 55,000 people each day, tends to have its share of inebriated patrons who must be taken into protective custody to sober up.
In fact, on concert days, the Dana Farber Field House, located next to the stadium and used by the New England Patriots as a practice facility, is transformed into a booking and holding area as the parking lots teem with boisterous fans in tents and lawn chairs.
Overflow protective custodies and arrests are sent to the town’s public safety building.
O’Leary said there were fewer incidents last year. But while that was a marked improvement in concertgoers’ behavior, “the traffic load system shut down, creating significant disruptions.”
In Walpole, for example, the direct effect was felt on Water, Washington, and Summer streets, he said, while in Foxborough, the biggest backups other than those on Route 1 were on Route 140.
Mechanic and Chestnut streets were severely congested, and “to a lesser extent North, Beach, and Pierce streets were also impacted,’’ he said in a memo to selectmen.
Residents and officials in both towns have expressed concern about the traffic logjams, during which some drivers would leave their cars to socialize, or to urinate on lawns and other private property.
O’Leary’s plan also calls for setting up traffic posts to monitor vehicle movement while opening and closing certain streets, as needed. He said he will work with officials at Gillette to be sure an electronic sign outside the stadium alerts motorists several days in advance to road closings.
And, he said, Foxborough police will make a townwide automated phone call concerning traffic restrictions at least 72 hours prior to the first concert that Friday.
Last year, as droves of fans flocked to the festival, a series of sporting events at Foxborough’s Ernie George football field drew additional traffic that further blocked the roads, making matters worse, said Selectwoman Lynda Walsh.
“We had traffic backed up all over town,” she said.
With everyone working together, she said, the new tactics can address the concert crush.
“Hopefully, the latest discussions will help,” said Walsh.
O’Leary’s plan will not be put in place for another blow-out concert, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, which is scheduled at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 18.
According to Foxborough’s Stadium Advisory Committee, early arrivals and tailgating don’t pose as much of a threat for that event, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 11:15 p.m.
Parking lots in that case will open three hours prior to show time, officials said.
The country fest, which begins at 4:30 p.m. and lasts until 11 p.m., is another matter because of its crowds and drinkers, many of them underage, who begin making merry as soon as the lots open — the main reason the edict came down last year to keep them closed until 2 p.m.
“I am planning to have a meeting of the Massachusetts State Police, the stadium, and my people to fine-tune our contingency plan later in July,’’ O’Leary said.
Details of that plan are not being made public, he said.Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.