Last year during College Beach Weekend, anyone driving toward the beach on the interstate after dark was out of luck. Drivers couldn’t get into the resort area because it became gridlocked with people attending the annual, informal event.
This year, the city isn’t taking any chances. Virginia Beach officials announced Thursday they plan to divert eastbound traffic on Interstate 264 at 7 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.
Traffic on I-264 eastbound will be diverted at Parks Avenue and redirected westbound. The eastbound exit for South Birdneck Road and the westbound exit for First Colonial Road will be closed. Other routes into the resort area will remain open.
Earlier this week, Councilman John Uhrin had asked Police Chief Jim Cervera to set a time for the traffic diversions.
“My neighbors want to know what time they need to be back in the neighborhood,” Uhrin said at a public briefing on Tuesday.
On Saturday night during College Beach Weekend last year, state police diverted interstate traffic near the Oceanfront at about 9 p.m. That left hundreds of drivers in the lurch, including residents who couldn’t get home for hours.
Some of those residents called Uhrin to complain, he said.
Traffic hasn’t been the only problem.
Cervera told the City Council on Tuesday that over the last couple years, they have seen an uptick in arrests of people from Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads. Most of those arrested were 22 to 25.
College Beach Weekend has led to thousands of overtime hours for the Police Department, costing about $200,000 each year.
“We want to have a safe and secure environment,” Cervera told the council. “The key is to resolve issues and problems before they escalate.”
Businesses are also planning for an influx of people. The weekend has been marred by violence after dark in the past, and some business owners are closing early.
Shaka’s, a music venue on 19th Street, closed early last year after shots were fired just before 11 p.m. on 18th Street. On Saturday, Shaka’s will host an afternoon event that will end at 8 p.m.
Hotel managers have been working with the Police Department to review their security plans, according to Russell Lyons, president of the city’s hotel association. Lyons’ company, Coastal Hospitality Associates, operates seven hotels at the Oceanfront. He said he has stepped up security – just like during other high-volume weekends.
Louisa Strayhorn, an Oceanfront resident and former city councilwoman, had hoped Virginia Beach leaders would organize an activity for those participating in College Beach Weekend. Strayhorn led a committee that offered recommendations to the city on how to handle the event.
“I’m disappointed,” she said earlier this week after reading a city mailer that was sent to her and other residents in the 23451 zip code. “I really didn’t see any of the recommendations on how to use the time up.”
Keith Chapman, a senior at Norfolk State University, went to College Beach Weekend last year. He plans to go to the beach again on Friday and Saturday, but wishes there were more activities.
“It would be nice if we had more day parties,” he said. “If the city actually organized an event, I would definitely attend it.”
Eyes on the beach
Amelia Ross-Hammond, a former city councilwoman, is planning to observe over the weekend.
About 40 other volunteers are scheduled to do the same. The Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission is encouraging residents to spend a couple of hours in the resort area paying attention to visitors’ behaviors and how police manage the crowds.
Diane D’Alberto, president of the Second Precinct Citizens Advisory Committee, works at a hotel that has hired extra security for the weekend and will provide a room for police officers to take a break.
“They do an awesome job,” D’Alberto said.
Ross-Hammond, chairwoman of the Mayor’s African American Roundtable, a group of local black leaders who advise the mayor, said she supports a smooth College Beach Weekend process.
“We do want these young people to feel welcome.”