Avoid the traffic pain, take the train -- that's the message if you're headed to Belmont on Saturday.
The Long Island Rail Road is offering beefed-up train service to help shepherd fans directly to the park where Triple Crown contender I'll Have Another and 11 other thoroughbreds are set to run in the 144th Belmont Stakes. But be prepared: LIRR tickets will not be sold onboard Saturday, and the LIRR urges those headed to the park to purchase round-trip tickets in advance.
Jerry Davis, director of admissions and parking for the New York Racing Association, has this advice for drivers: Come early, be patient, listen to security and traffic patrol attendants, and plan to spend a little time getting out at the end.
Between 90,000 and 100,000 people are expected, and 250 attendants will be on hand to flag those who drive into parking spaces, Davis said Wednesday. "With good weather and luck, we may well get over 100,000," he said.
In 2004, a record 120,139 crowded the famed racing complex to see Triple Crown contender Smarty Jones, who was beat out by long shot Birdstone.
"The actual event finished around 7, 7:15 p.m., and by the time everyone was loaded up -- aboard the buses and rail and everything -- it was about 10 p.m. traffic was back to normal," Davis recalled. "We think that's not bad."
For drivers coming to Belmont from east of the Cross Island Parkway, Davis advised taking either Hempstead or Jericho turnpikes to Plainfield Avenue and entering the park at Gate 8. For those headed to the park from west of the Cross Island, Davis suggested taking the Cross Island and entering Belmont at Exit 26D from the north or Exit 26B from the south.
Nassau County police said Wednesday there are no plans to close any county roads, though officers will be stationed to assist with traffic afterward.
As of Wednesday, the New York State Department of Transportation had not received any requests for traffic mitigation. Spokeswoman Eileen Peters said the DOT is ready to dedicate needed resources to help with any congestion.
Sgt. Ronald Gagliano, of Floral Park Village Police, said one traffic alteration is planned locally after the big race finishes: Both lanes of Plainfield Avenue between Vandewater and Carnation avenues will be dedicated to northbound traffic, a distance of about a quarter-mile.
Floral Park police warned that the western end of the village will go to four-hour maximum parking throughout Saturday. Residents can get an all-day pass from the village police station.
NYRA is offering six courtesy shuttle buses from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. to accommodate residents of Floral Park and Elmont. More information is available at nyra.com.
LIRR riders should take note: Belmont is a special-event station and is not wheelchair accessible; it has no elevators and only limited escalator service. For additional information, racing fans can contact the LIRR's Travel Information Center by calling 511 or consult mta.info/lirr.
Perhaps the best advice for Saturday came from Elmont East Civic Association president Pat Nicolosi, who has lived in Elmont for 45 years.
"People should come to that beautiful park, Belmont, other times of the year that it's open. Don't wait for the Triple Crown," she said. "There's so many things for people and children to do there. Come any race day.. . . It's a beautiful experience -- just like being in Central Park."