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More than 9,000 people packed into the Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark on Thursday to see country star Carrie Underwood perform.

Eventually, they all had to leave. 

The resulting traffic snarl, and more specifically the strategy used by law enforcement at around 10 p.m., had some captive drivers fuming.

After a big MetraPark event, traffic directors usually stagger the flow of traffic. Those moving south on Main Street would get a bit of time, then drivers coming off Bench Boulevard would move, followed by northbound traffic on Main.

After Thursday's concert, there was a different strategy.

“It sounds like last night they tried something different and stopped traffic on Main Street and Exposition (Drive),” said Billings Police Capt. R.D. Harper of the Billings Police Department.

The idea was to clear out the Metra traffic as soon as possible, but those caught up in the traffic jam were sedentary for nearly an hour. Harper said that in the future, this will not be the strategy.

Billings police received multiple calls about the snarl of cars.

“Basically every single car from the Metra, they were allowed to flow through, inhibiting all the traffic in and out of the Heights,” said Daniel Lafrombois, whose son Nathaniel called him from the traffic line.

Nathaniel was coming down Main Street at the time and sat for an hour, Daniel Lafrombois said. He wasn't at the concert, just trying to pass through to get home.

Lafrombois said that it was the wrong strategy to give those exiting the Metra the only green light.

"Not at the cost of people going in and out of the Heights," he said.

Bill Dutcher, general manager of MetraPark, said they expected a big crowd for the concert and worked out a traffic plan. He said that Metra employees work the parking lots, and they contract with law enforcement for the streets.

The Montana Highway Patrol, Billings Police Department and Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office helped out. For Billings police, it's an overtime situation for the officers, Harper said.

Dutcher said he received calls about the traffic around the Metra after the Underwood show and spoke to law enforcement about it. Traffic has been a challenge in the bottlenecked Metra corridor, but Dutcher said the Bench exchange helped provide an extra outlet.

The plan for Sunday's Nitro Circus show will not be the same.

“The officer I spoke to said there would be some revisions in shedding some of the traffic," Dutcher said. "Just know that people are listened to; it’s a work in progress."

Dutcher said the opening of parking lot 2, which is closest to the grandstand, will hopefully relieve some traffic pressure as well.

Harper also said that the Metra-centric traffic plan won't be used for similar events in the future. 

"We admit the mistake. It wasn't the best plan," he said. "But going forward, we learned from it. I'd like to assure people in the Heights that they won't see that problem again."

Still, he reminded drivers to expect delays in the MetraPark area during all large events. 

Just up the road, Airport Road and Main Street is considered Montana's busiest intersection. State officials are contemplating possible changes for that portion.

And the Exposition Drive area is at the heart of three parts of town, connecting downtown Billings, the Heights and Lockwood with the most direct routes.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.