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Tulip Festival Traffic Drives County’s Mitigation Efforts

Each year thousands of people flood into the county to experience the technicolor spectacle that is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.

But with acres and acres of tulips come waves and waves of traffic. The vehicles coming in and out of the area quickly overwhelm county roads and city streets, which has prompted officials to make improvements over the years.

“With so many people, solving it isn't the answer,” said county engineer Given Kutz. “Mitigation is really the issue here.”

A study from Washington State University years ago estimated the Tulip Festival crowds reached nearly 250,000 with most coming on weekends, particularly any weekend that offered the nicest weather.

“Everybody wants to be there at the same time,” Kutz said.

The intersection of McLean Road and Best Road used to get so clogged up it would turn into a four-way stop during festival weekends. Sheriff’s deputies were regularly stationed there to keep vehicles moving during the festival. Several years ago, the county installed a roundabout, which now keeps traffic flowing in all directions.

Kutz said other road improvements are planned, like a new roundabout at Fir Island Road and Pioneer Highway, another trouble spot in Conway where eastbound traffic chokes trying to reach Interstate 5. Though Kutz said construction on this project began in 2013, its completion will have to wait until this year’s tulip festival is over.

But it’s not all about the festival. Kutz said that the road improvements being made are not simply spurred on by the festival, they are general enhancements that improve the county’s roads for everyone.

Kutz said in the past 10 years the traffic problems have decreased. This isn’t just because of improvements. Kutz said tulip fans are getting more savvy. They take roads less travelled or come on weekdays to avoid the heaviest crowds.

Kutz suggested that rather than get frustrated with heavy traffic during the festival, do some research and develop a game plan to avoid getting stuck.