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Amherst ready for UMass commencement crowds

“There are going to be bottlenecks and traffic issues, and people traveling locally have to understand that,” said Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone.

But as commencement gets underway at 5 p.m., downtown businesses are expecting that traffic will flow well through the center of town, said Tony Maroulis, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We want people to come downtown and eat,” he said.

Maroulis said he hopes both visitors and regulars won’t avoid coming to town, noting UMass has been a good partner in promoting local businesses at commencement.

About 5,500 graduating seniors will participate in the ceremony at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, where Kenneth I. Chenault, chairman and CEO of American Express will deliver the keynote address.

Livingstone said UMass has hired 12 Amherst officers to be stationed at various posts near the campus.

There have been no major traffic snarls in either of the past two years, he said.

“We’re pretty happy with the way it’s going,” Livingstone said.

Most of the traffic is diverted around the town center, with those coming from the south and west using the Route 116 bypass, from points north using North Pleasant Street, and from eastern points coming over Triangle Street.

University Drive north of Amity Street and south of Massachusetts Avenue, and North Pleasant Street north of Massachusetts Avenue and south of Governors Drive, will be closed to through traffic between 2:30 and 5 p.m., and then again when the ceremony concludes at 6:30 p.m. They will reopen at 8 p.m. This allows the buses that will shuttle people from parking lots to and from the stadium to make their way along these roads without congestion.

Maroulis said one concern about the traffic plan comes from businesses on University Drive, like Amherst Brewing Co., Rafters and The Hangar, all of which will be difficult to get to after commencement.

Maroulis said he plans to address the issue with UMass when making next year’s plans.

“The university is sensitive to it, and it’s important we get it right. It’s just how,” Maroulis said.

On Saturday the various colleges at UMass stage smaller recognition ceremonies for graduates, and a handful of Amherst police officers will be hired for details, Livingstone said.

The Amherst Business Improvement District trolleys will operate during the weekend, after their first runs during the Amherst Invitational Ultimate Tournament last weekend.

Starting Saturday at 10:30 a.m., the trolleys will travel a loop between events on campus and downtown. Stops on campus will include the Mullins Center and Haigis Mall, and downtown they stop at Kendrick Park and Pray Street, Cowles Lane and North Pleasant Street and at Town Hall.

The university issues advisories, both via email and on its website, and travel suggestions. One advisory, posted to the website, reads: “Traffic into Amherst may be heavy on Commencement Day, May 10, 2013, so plan accordingly. Expect significant delays to begin two hours before the ceremony.”

Livingstone said communication from the university is as good as it’s ever been, which has helped eliminate any confusion about where people are going.

“They do a good job with sending out information to all graduates and their families,” Livingstone said.

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