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Super Bowl 50 Presents Daunting Challenge for Bay Area Transportation Planners

With such a high-profile event coming to Santa Clara, there is increased scrutiny on traffic congestion in the Bay Area that could become exponentially worse without adequate plans.

(TNS) -- Ever since Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014, the shiny new home of the 49ers has drawn more attention for the difficulty of getting to and from events than for the quality of the football.

On Super Bowl Sunday, officials hope, the focus will be on the game — and the parties — and that a carefully choreographed game plan for getting 70,000 fans, 6,000 workers and 5,000 members of the media in and out will perform smoothly.

“That’s our goal every year — to help assure fans have a great game day experience,” said Dave Houghton, the NFL’s senior director of events. He said the 49ers’ ability to handle traffic had “gotten a ton better. Our experience aims to build on that.”

The NFL’s strategy for Super Bowl Sunday counts on adding hundreds of private charter buses, limiting the number of people allowed to ride light rail to the stadium, dedicating zones for taxis and Uber, and keeping looky-loos without tickets from hanging around the event.

Executing the plan will be a challenge. The suburban location of Levi’s Stadium, the lack of direct freeway access, the dispersed parking lots and a limited transit system have made getting fans in and out swiftly as tough as fourth-and-long for the 49ers.

Fans flooded social media, and sports talk shows, with complaints of two-hour waits to get out of parking lots after 49er games, and of long lines for Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority trains. The team and Santa Clara constantly tweaked their plans, with some results, but fans still prepare for trips to the venue with trepidation.

The Super Bowl adds challenges: more fans, workers and media — and more attention. Stages, corporate party palaces and broadcasting equipment will occupy most of the main parking lot, and almost no one will be able to get within a quarter mile of the stadium except on foot. There’s also the potential for political protests.

‘Not like regular season’

Navigating the Super Bowl gauntlet has some fans nervous, especially those traveling 45 miles from San Francisco, where most Super Bowl 50 festivities and guests are housed.

“This is the one game where you want to make it on time or well in advance for the festivities,” said Sid Viswanathan of San Francisco. “It’s not like a regular season game where you roll in five minutes into the first quarter of a 49ers game and it’s all good. That’s why we are giving ourselves four-plus hours of travel time to get there from San Francisco.”

Out-of-towners like Megan Neher are also concerned. Neher, who grew up in Menlo Park but now lives in Pennsylvania, is staying with family in San Francisco. She’s going to the game with her husband and grandparents, probably taking Caltrain and light rail — or maybe one of the fan charter buses.

“I’ve been stressing about it for weeks already,” she said.

Fans may be reassured to know that NFL officials, including Houghton, have spent a lot of time in Santa Clara over the past year studying the stadium, attending not only 49ers games but Wrestlemania and the Taylor Swift concerts.

Charter buses

The upshot? About 20,000 people will be hauled to the game on a fleet of 400 or more buses chartered by the NFL, the Super Bowl Host Committee and corporate sponsors. VTA will carry up to 10,000 fans on light rail — a crowd the agency should be able to handle without long waits, said Brandi Childress, a VTA spokeswoman.

The 10,000-passenger limit “helps us anticipate the crowd,” she said.

Fans taking light rail to the Super Bowl must buy advance tickets on their mobile phones using a special app, and will have to display a ticket to the game or proof that one’s waiting at the stadium.

VTA will use two stations for the game, Houghton said. Trains from the east will stop and disgorge passengers at the Lick Mill Road Station while trains arriving from Mountain View, where passengers transfer from Caltrain, will use the Great America Station.

VTA is also running express buses from the Fremont BART Station to the stadium. And three other public transportation options are available: Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor, from Sacramento through the East Bay, and Altamont Corridor Express, from Stockton through the Tri-Valley, stop at a station on Lafayette Street, a short walk from the Super Bowl gates.

Perhaps appropriately for the first Super Bowl in Silicon Valley, ride service Uber will have special drop-off and pick-up zones for passengers north of the stadium. After the game, fans won’t be able to hail rides with their phones outside the stadium, but once they reach the lot, they can log in, request a ride and be directed to a waiting car. A taxi loading zone will also be set up near the Lick Mill light rail station.

Riders using Lyft and other services will have to get in and out wherever drivers can find a place to pull over.

For those who drive, about 20,000 parking spaces will be available — most in the more distant lots used at 49er games, meaning fans should be prepared for a healthy walk.

The NFL plans to take some of the load off the roads around Levi’s Stadium by using the Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium in San Jose for game-day employees to park and catch shuttles.

Must have ticket

Houghton also hopes that the pregame festivities and postgame revelry will help spread out the crowds and diminish the congestion. About 30,000 fans usually stick around for the awarding of the Lombardi Trophy and associated hooting and hollering, and an additional 5,000 are expected to attend Super Bowl afterparties.

Fans who don’t have tickets and just want to bask in the aura of the big game won’t be allowed past the security gates into the official Super Bowl tailgate party, fan plaza or souvenir shops. Law enforcement officials are advising them to steer clear.

“If you don’t have a ticket,” said Daniel Hill, a California Highway Patrol spokesman, “you should avoid the stadium.”

Getting to the big game

Charters: Hundreds of buses are hauling people to the Super Bowl, and fans can catch a ride on an express bus from San Francisco and other sites. Tickets and information:

Public transportation: Several options are available for fans to get to the game, but some require advance tickets and are available only to those with tickets to the game.

Caltrain is running three limited-stop trains in addition to its usual Sunday hourly trains from San Francisco. To get to the game, fans need to get off at Mountain View and switch to VTA light rail. While anyone can ride Caltrain, VTA riders will need to buy a ticket on their mobile phone using the EventTIK app and have a game ticket or proof one is waiting at the stadium.

VTA trains run from elsewhere in the South Bay. And the agency will run an express bus from BART’s Fremont Station to near Levi’s Stadium, with tickets also on the EventTIK app. Information:

Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor and Altamont Corridor Express will also provide rail service to the game, stopping a short walk from the stadium. ACE riders will need to buy advance tickets and have a game ticket in hand. Information: and

Driving and parking: Most of the Great America lot is unavailable for fan parking, but 20,000 spaces are available in nearly 20 other lots within walking distance. Parking reservations: .

Traffic: Go to and a special CHP site: www/

©2016 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.