BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – As the Space Coast prepares for Thursday’s scheduled launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station, officials also are preparing for potential traffic tie-ups, reports News 6 partner Florida Today.
There could be 200,000 or more people coming into Brevard County for Thursday’s SpaceX Crew-2 launch, according to Brevard County Communications Director Don Walker. The launch is scheduled for 6:11 a.m. from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
That would be somewhat less than the projected visitors count for the Nov. 15 SpaceX Crew-1 launch, which occurred at 7:27 p.m. on a Sunday. County officials expected up to 250,000 day-trippers from outside Brevard to converge on viewing spots for that launch.
Why the drop this time around?
Walker cited the early-morning liftoff time during the workweek.
“It’s on a Thursday at 6:11 in the morning. So we don’t anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of cars on the road, like you would normally have if it was happening at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, which is when schools are letting out,” Walker said.
“So we’re thinking that will help us get a better handle on the traffic,” he said.
Rather than State Road 528, transportation officials advise launch spectators to choose alternate routes like State Road 520, U.S. 1, State Road 50 and State Road 46.
Walker said motorists can download and monitor the Waze app on their smartphones for updates on traffic congestion and parking availability.
The Florida Department of Transportation will implement the same traffic-congestion strategy that it used during the SpaceX Crew-1 launch in November.
“Because of the early start time, the department doesn’t expect as large of a crowd, but is still encouraging the use of alternate routes other than State Road 528 to minimize traffic in case there is a large turnout,” FDOT spokesman Timothy Freed said. “Alternate routes include SR 520, U.S. 1, SR 50 and SR 46.”
FDOT workers will:
- Use electronic message signs to provide information pre-launch for inbound traffic and post-launch for outbound traffic.
- Install temporary orange mesh fencing along the SR 528 median to boost safety and reduce unauthorized U-turns.
- Close various turn lanes and ramps, including the northbound left-turn lane at SR A1A and SR 520 in Cocoa Beach.
Cocoa Beach City Manager Jim McKnight said Cocoa Beach police will coordinate with the Florida Highway Patrol and FDOT to handle traffic flow before and after the Crew-2 launch.
Choose viewing spot carefully
Other advice from Walker: “Don’t park in the middle of the causeway. Don’t pull over on the side of the road. Make sure you get somewhere that’s safe for you and your family to watch the launch,”
Walker noted that “you don’t all have to be at the Space Center or in north Brevard County to see the launch. There’s plenty of room on the beaches. There are plenty of parks that are going to be open.”
Walker also cautioned that the coronavirus pandemic remains ongoing.
“We’re still in the pandemic. And even though we’ve gotten a large segment of our population vaccinated, you still need to be following (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations,” Walker said. “Social distance. Stay home if you’re sick. Avoid large crowds or close proximity, because you never know if the person next to you or the person 10 feet away is carrying it — or you’re carrying it and going to give it to them,” he said.
“If everyone does their due diligence and practices those recommendations, and leaves early to get there and avoid traffic, then, hopefully, everyone will have a good time and we’ll see a successful launch,” he said.
Port Canaveral viewing plan
Port Canaveral — a popular launch viewing spot — on Monday released its plan for public access to the port for viewing Thursday’s scheduled Crew-2 launch.
Access to launch viewing points at Port Canaveral will be limited, and traffic in and around the port will be controlled.
Port officials are recommending that potential launch watchers consider the limitations for public parking at Port Canaveral on launch day and to plan accordingly.
The FDOT is planning to control traffic flow on SR 528 and SR A1A, particularly at exits for George King Boulevard on Port Canaveral. SR 401 will be open, but limited to commercial and official traffic heading to the port’s northside operations and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
FDOT will be updating traffic and parking conditions in and around Port Canaveral using the Waze app, which can be accessed from any smartphone. The app will be updated on changing conditions.
Motorists should enter the port at George King Boulevard from State Roads A1A or 528. After liftoff, there will be no entrance to the port, and motorists should exit on George King Boulevard for SR A1A or SR 528.
Vehicles heading to Jetty Park should enter the port via George King Boulevard, then depart after launch via North Atlantic Avenue or George King Boulevard.
Parking passes to Jetty Park must be purchased online prior to arriving at the park. No cash or credit card transactions are allowed at the entrance booth.
“Human spaceflight has historically generated tremendous public interest here on the Space Coast, and we know that our port is a ‘front seat’ to that experience,” Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said, in announcing the plan. “We continue to work with state and local agencies to address some of the public’s demand while maintaining our continued focus on public health and safety.”
The port’s plan was jointly developed by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Canaveral Fire Rescue and Canaveral Port Authority Public Safety, in collaboration with the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center and FDOT to minimize traffic congestion, ensure public safety, and promote a safe environment for port employees, contractors, tenants and the community.
Electronic signs on the state’s highways and on Port Canaveral roadways and intersections will advise motorists of road restrictions, as well as when parking capacity has been reached at designated parking areas. BCSO deputies will monitor traffic, control key traffic intersections, and enforce parking on and around the Port.
BCSO deputies will be in place to assist drivers and will be patrolling the port to enforce parking. The port said visitors to Jetty Park should practice social distancing and wear a mask.
Jetty Park: Lot will close when 100% vehicle capacity is reached. Vehicles departing Jetty Park will be directed onto North Atlantic Boulevard southbound (or George King Boulevard, depending on traffic conditions).
Boat ramp parking: Freddie Patrick Park boat ramps and Rodney S. Ketcham Park boat ramps vehicle and trailer parking will be open and available to boaters on a first-come, first-serve basis until capacity is reached.
Boat ramps parking lots are exclusively for boater vehicles and trailers using boat ramps. Boaters at all times — whether parking at ramp lots or not — may access the ramps to drop their boat and tackle and seek parking elsewhere.
Cover parking for restaurants: Paved parking lot south of the Cove dining district will be open exclusively for Cove merchant patrons. Lot will close when maximum vehicle capacity is reached.
Accessible parking: Paved parking spaces on Mullet Drive to the north of the Exploration Tower and adjacent to Cove dining district will be open. No shoulder parking will be allowed.
No parking areas: These are among the areas where will parking is banned:
- Exploration Tower and parking lot closed.
- All cruise terminal parking garages are closed.
- No parking on George King Boulevard or any port roadways.
- No parking on unpaved lots or grassy surface areas.
- No parking allowed on State Road 401 and on the State Road 528 median. These will be strictly enforced.