Did you attend the Goochland fireworks on the Fourth of July? If so, how long did it take you to get home?
Sheriff James L. Agnew estimated that the crowd was 25 to 30 percent larger than last year’s event, overwhelming the county’s road system.
Another source estimated the crowd somewhere north of 15,000. Goochland’s total population is just over 21,000.
Happily, there were no incidents, and everyone was well-behaved. Good thing, because the roads were so clogged that law enforcement and fire-rescue vehicles would not have been able to negotiate though the glut of cars on all roads anywhere near Courthouse Village.
Agnew contended that Goochland roads, especially around Courthouse Village, simply cannot safely handle the number of cars and people that attended the fireworks last Thursday.
The rockets’ red glare stopped about 9:20 p.m. and everyone headed for their vehicle. River Road West was in gridlock from west of the high school to well east of the light at Maidens Road long after the last blast of pyrotechnics. Folks went to their cars, ready to head home but nothing moved for a very long time and then at a snail’s pace.
All over the place, people were making U turns and asking for direction, which further slowed the exodus.
A deputy directing traffic on Route 6 where four lanes melt into two near Manakin reported that westbound traffic there was steady from early evening until after nine. On the up side, business was great for food vendors of all types in Courthouse Village. On the downside, were there porta-potties?
After 10:15, about an hour after the fireworks ended, a steady stream of traffic still flowed from Fairground Road onto Rt. 250 and turned onto Oilville Road, presumably thence to I-64.
The county picked up the tab for deputy overtime. Agnew said that, should the county decide to hold fireworks in Courthouse Village next year, his entire staff would need to be on duty to handle traffic.
What drew the large crowd? Aggressive advertising was probably responsible for attracting the overflow crowd to our fireworks. The display was mentioned on at least one Richmond television station and who knows where else. Perhaps the excessive turnout was the unintended consequence of exuberant and well-meaning staffers who live outside the county publicizing the event without understanding how easily Goochland’s road system can be overloaded.
It would be interesting to know how many county residents whose tax dollars helped fund the display were discouraged or prevented from attending by the deluge of outsiders that glutted our narrow country roads.
Controlling that monster traffic jam with a handful of deputies was a thankless task. Blaming the Sheriff’s Office for the gridlock after the fireworks is like blaming a supermarket cashier for rising food prices.
Clearly, the fireworks turnout was a surprise. It’s hard to predict who will show up for a free event. Following a disappointing turnout a few years ago, the event was not held and resumed only when people complained about its absence.
In spite of lean economic times, Goochland has managed to hold the line on tax rates and still has fireworks. Local businesses have generously chipped in to help defray the cost of the display. If the immediate world is going to come to the county for fireworks, maybe it’s time to rethink the location and figure out what we’re going to do with all those people and cars when they get here.
On the other hand, maybe the traffic was so bad, the folks who drive “out to the country” won’t return next year.
A sample, in case you were stuck in traffic.