Cruisin' the Coast

Gulfport Music Fest and Cruisin’ in one weekend? Yep, and it’s going to impact traffic.

Cruisers convoy their cars up and down U. S. 90 in Biloxi on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. This year two other big events are at the same time as Cruisin’ in South Mississippi.
Cruisers convoy their cars up and down U. S. 90 in Biloxi on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014. This year two other big events are at the same time as Cruisin’ in South Mississippi. Sun Herald File

With less than a week until Sunday’s start of Cruisin’ The Coast, tents are going up at Cruise Central, RV owners are claiming prime spots along U.S. 90 and drivers are plotting alternative routes to get around the traffic on the beach.

It will take more planning on the part of residents, visitors and local police this year to avoid traffic delays because Cruisin’ isn’t the only event on the schedule. Gulfport Music Festival rocks Jones Park the last weekend of Cruisin’ and Zonta Festival, with hundreds of arts, crafts and food vendors, will share downtown Pascagoula with the Cruisers on Oct. 7.

“This is the kickoff to fall. Lots of great things are happening in Gulfport and across all of the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Chris Vignes, spokesman for Gulfport. The city is the site of View the Cruise in the downtown and Cruise In at Hardy Court Shopping Center, both on Sunday, and is home to Cruisin’ Central at Centennial Plaza.

While Cruisers lean toward ’50s and ’60s music, the Gulfport Music Festival on Oct. 6-7 is mostly rock bands, bringing another crowd of people to town. Alpha Media leased Jones Park for the festival and headliners are 3 Doors Down on Friday and Ludacris on Saturday. Gates open at 4 p.m. Friday and at noon Saturday, and the music goes into the night.

Patience is what people will need to navigate the traffic, said Sgt. Joshua Bromen, public information officer for the Gulfport Police Department, and he said the drivers should begin planning early.

“Most of the Cruisin’ traffic shuts down around Courthouse Road for us,” he said, which is well east of Jones Park. The challenge will be getting to Gulfport from Ocean Springs and Biloxi on concert nights. He suggests staying off U.S. 90 and Pass Road and using Seaway and O’Neal roads, along with Interstate 10, to move from east to west. Directions tell concert goers to come south on U.S. 49, but he said locals may want to use alternative routes.

Social media indicates that many fans are planning to come see one or two bands, he said, and then leave the festival.

“We’ll have several officers working that area,” he said, and will assess the traffic plans as the event gets closer.

Woody Bailey, executive director of Cruisin’ The Coast, met with city officials and said, “Gulfport PD is going to work hard to make sure we have smooth traffic flow.”

He’s less concerned about traffic in Pascagoula. This is the first year the city is a Cruisin’ venue, and the 40th year for the Zonta Arts & Crafts Festival. Together they will fill downtown Pascagoula with cars, music, food and crafts on Cruisin’ Saturday.

“I think it’s going to work out very well,” he said.

The heaviest traffic areas during Cruisin’ are from the Biloxi Lighthouse to Edgewater Mall, and there’s no question this year’s Cruisin’ will bring plenty of cars to admire as people bring their lawn chairs and sit along the route.

When early registration ended in mid-August, a record 7,117 cars were signed up from 39 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and Germany. Registration opens again on Oct. 2, and it’s likely Cruisin’ The Coast will top last year’s record 7,957 registered cars before the week is done.

“It will be a fun week,” said Vignes, one that owners of hotels, casinos, restaurants and shops look forward to all year.

Cruisin’ The Coast has a $26 million impact on the three Coast counties at an otherwise slow tourist time of the year. It has grown to become the most popular event in the state over 21 years.