Braving 224? Take a deep breath ...

Last-minute shopping has police expecting long lines of cars.



BOARDMAN — Anyone who’s driven on U.S. Route 224 knows this rule of the road: Don’t turn left. Especially this weekend.

The high-traffic route is notorious for its outrageous traffic, and if a drive on a Friday is any indication, last-minute holiday shoppers should be prepared for traffic delays and gridlock traffic today and Sunday.

Even on a Friday afternoon, parking lots are clogged with cars. People fight for a spot at places such as Best Buy and the Southern Park Mall. And this is during the work day.

Glenn Brady of Liberty said Route 224’s traffic has been so bad this time of year, he makes a point to avoid it.

“I’ll use another road like South Avenue, Market Street or roads that run perpendicular to 224,” he said, “[Route 224] is too crowded. There’s too much congestion.”

Georgia Kusiowski of Salem suggests knowing what you have to buy in order to compensate for the time waiting in traffic.

“I’m just starting my shopping,” she said, “I know what I have to get so I can just go in and get it.”

Planning a route is also key, said Shirley Grove of Youngstown. She said she never travels to areas that don’t have stop lights.

Defensive driving was a choice tactic for most drivers as people honked their horns, cut people off and attempted to squeeze in the tiniest openings in traffic.

Kelly Valiquette of Leetonia said Route 224 traffic has been a nightmare. “It’s chaotic,” she said, “I think everybody waited until the last minute” to shop.

Boardman Police Chief Patrick Berarducci said his force is prepared for the potential onslaught of last-minute shoppers.

“We try to make sure that we’re fully staffed on the road that weekend,” he said.

Others prepare for the worst and hope to make it to stores without any problems.

Mike Tokarski of Youngstown said he knew the traffic would be bad judging from what he’s seen as an employee at Dick’s Sporting Goods.

“It’s been hectic. Last week it took us 20 minutes just to get out of the parking lot after work,” he said.

His friend, Max Secre of Canfield, said people have to adjust.

“It’s crowded, but you got to get used to it,” he said.

Surprisingly, some people enjoy the long lines in traffic and at stores.

Eugene Hobby Jr. of Youngstown said it all adds to the collective joy of the holidays.

“I actually like the traffic,” he said, “It really gives you that feeling of Christmas.”

That joy isn’t felt by everyone, as one driver almost came to fisticuffs with another motorist who “stole” his spot at the mall.

Berarducci said incidents such as this will be minimized as they patrol areas such as stores and the mall.

“Our shift commanders will adjust their deployments so that they’re heavily weighted toward the retail area,” he said.

An alarming number of people on their cell phones doing things such as driving, carrying large objects and pushing strollers may annoy some people.

“People have to pay attention,” Grove said. “I know it’s the holiday season and everybody has got something else on their mind. But we need to keep an eye on what we’re doing.”

Tempers may flare as people wait unusually long times at traffic lights, but Grove said there’s no other remedy to driving on Route 224 than understanding it will take awhile.

“I don’t see what they can do to improve other than moving the stores, which I hope they don’t do,” she said.

Berarducci said although more cops will be out patrolling the busy thoroughfare, they can’t stop the streets from being flooded with cars.

“There’s not much you can do to relieve the heavy traffic except make sure that it’s flowing freely,” he said.

“Flowing freely” is far from the phrase that would be used to describe Route 224’s traffic Friday. A better phrase this weekend might be “good luck.”

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