Tri-City Water Follies organizers say they're almost ready for the annual hydroplane races that begin Friday, with special provisions being made to help visitors have fun.
"We're well ahead of schedule," said Ron Hue, president of Water Follies, on Wednesday as crews made preparations for the event that's expected to attract 60,000 racegoers to Columbia Park and the Pasco shoreline.
Follies organizers are partnering with Ben Franklin Transit to offer transportation to the riverfront park. Hue said riding a bus will help those attending the races save money on gas and parking, and they also can bring chairs and coolers on the bus. "It's a great way to go."
Bus rides will cost $1 for adults, 65 cents for children 18 and under, and seniors and children under 5 ride for free. On Friday and Saturday, riders can board buses at the Dayton Transfer Center in Kennewick at Keewaydin Park once an hour on the half-hour from 8:30 a.m. through 6:30 p.m.
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On Sunday, the shuttle will run from the Knight Street Transit Center in Richland and the Huntington Transit Center in Kennewick every hour on the hour from 8 to 11 a.m.
In Pasco, transit buses will leave the 22nd Street Transit Center every 30 minutes beginning at 8 a.m. all three days. The last shuttle will depart at 11 a.m.
There also will be a special needs area for those with disabilities near the Veterans Memorial in Columbia Park. The viewing area, which will include a bleacher, will accommodate about 30 visitors with disabilities and their caregivers, said Todd Blackman, Follies' past president. Free water and ice also will be available for visitors with special needs, he said, and a volunteer will be there to help.
Golf cart shuttles will run from the parking lot to the viewing area, but Transit's Dial-A-Ride service will drop visitors closest to the viewing area, Blackman said.
Organizers say they expect use of public transportation by fans to reduce traffic congestion and enhance road safety in and around Columbia Park. The park, which is normally always open to the public, will be gated for race weekend.
The Tri-Cities' signature event also includes air show demonstrations Saturday and Sunday featuring F-15s, F-16s and a P-51 Mustang.
About two dozen hydroplanes, representing two categories, will race. Unlimited hydroplanes reach speeds of up to 200 mph, and Unlimited Light hydroplanes get up to about 150 mph, said Kevin Smith, pit boss.
The races are part of a six-city circuit sanctioned by the American Boat Racing Association. Similar races in Seattle in August and San Diego in September will complete the season, Smith said.
Pit tours, which offer a closer look at the boats, are available with the purchase of a $5 Booster Button souvenir lapel pin.
About 38 companies and individuals are race sponsors and have private viewing areas this year, said Kathy Balcom, a longtime Follies volunteer and former president.
Volunteers help Follies to stay within an $800,000 budget. Balcom said Follies has eliminated sponsorship commissions, most of its paid management positions and reduced the number of free tickets. "We're treating it like a business."
Admission is free on Friday but parking will cost $5. A general admission ticket, valid on Saturday and Sunday, costs $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12.
Tickets for general admission will cost $15 on Saturday and $25 on Sunday for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12 on both days. Those interested in sitting on bleachers need to pay an extra $5 for adults and children 6 and up. Parking will cost $10 on Sunday.
Balcom said tickets are available at area Albertsons stores and will be available beginning today at Columbia Park near the Playground of Dreams.
For more information, go to www.waterfollies.com