Southaven and the Landers Center will play a part in the annual St. Jude Marathon weekend, beginning today (Thursday) and continuing Friday ahead of the event on Saturday morning, Dec. 7. But, the crush of runners coming to the DeSoto County venue will tax traffic numbers for the two-day period.
Thousands are expected to be converging on the Landers Center for the marathon’s package pickup and exhibitors show, held there for the first time this year due to construction at the Memphis Convention Center.
Hours for the package pickup and expo are from 12 noon-7 p.m. today (Thursday) and from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. on Friday.
Officials are expecting heavy levels of traffic congestion as vehicles with runners who don't use the expo shuttle from downtown Memphis drive instead to the Landers Center.
The Southaven Police Department has a plan in place to address the anticipated crush of vehicles, said SPD Capt. Richard Chandler.
“We’ve gotten with the Tennessee and Mississippi Departments of Transportation and we’ve put signs out alerting motorists about the heavy traffic that is coming and to avoid the area Thursday and Friday,” Chandler said.
About 11 a.m. Thursday morning, Chandler said the department will begin putting out cones and signs to direct traffic coming into the Landers Center.
“We’ll have 16 officers coming out and we will work the traffic lights manually to keep the traffic flowing and dump the traffic when we need to,” said Chandler. “Anybody coming to the Landers Center will be directed to enter on Pepperchase Drive to park in the lots there. When they leave, they will go north on Venture Drive in front of the Harley-Davidson dealership and all will be directed to turn right onto Church Road. That will allow them to go either north or south on I-55.”
Chandler said a similar plan has been used for events the past couple of years and it seems to do the best that can be expected given the situation.
About 100,000 people were attracted to the facility for the Mid-South Fair over a 10-day period, or about 10,000 people a day, Chandler said. “We’re expecting close to 30,000 people in a 16-hour period over two days. What we can’t plan for without experience is whether all of those people come in a steady flow or a 4 p.m.-7 p.m. rush.”
Chandler asks for the public’s cooperation and courtesy during what is expected to be two afternoons into evening of heavy traffic in the I-55/Church Road intersection area.
“The men and women that will be out there working, please be courteous to them, they’re working hard,” Chandler said.
The expo is where runners will need to go and get their race day packets and other race essentials. Several exhibitors and speakers will be on hand and official merchandise will also sold there.
The actual race begins as early as 7 a.m. Saturday for the 5K and 10K run. The 13.1 mile half-marathon and 26.2 mile full marathon starts at 8 a.m. and the kids’ marathon begins at 1:30 p.m.
Last year’s event raised more than $11.2 million toward St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, the hospital founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas, while patients’ families are never billed for their treatment.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.