State and Kentucky Speedway to spend $11 million on parking, road upgrades

lblackford@herald-leader.comAugust 30, 2011 

SPARTA — The Kentucky Speedway and state government will spend more than $11 million to improve parking and roads around the track in hopes of avoiding future traffic fiascoes like the one that plagued its inaugural Sprint Cup race in July.

The state will spend $3.6 million to widen nearby roads and build a pedestrian walkway under Kentucky Highway 35. The walkway will connect the track with 143 acres it recently purchased for $1.5 million to expand parking by 35 percent.

In all, speedway officials said they will invest an estimated $7.5 million to create 10,000 new parking spaces, upgrade its existing 33,000 spaces, and create better plans to move people in and out of the venue.

"At a certain point you have to stop saying you're sorry and you have to do something about it," said Mark Simendinger, the speedway's general manager.


View Kentucky Speedway changes in a larger map

In July, thousands of fans were stranded in traffic as the track's premiere NASCAR race unfolded.

The debacle became political when Beshear's key rival in the gubernatorial election, Republican Senate President David Williams, called for hearings to investigate the traffic and parking woes. Williams was among those fans who missed the race because of traffic back-ups.

The hearings will be held as scheduled at the regular meeting of the Interim Transportation Committee in September, said Williams' spokeswoman Lourdes Baez-Schraeder.

Beshear denied that the quick resolution was politically motivated.

"It would have been solved quickly one way or the other," Beshear said. "Kentucky is vitally interested in keeping the Sprint Cup race here."

Beshear estimated the economic impact of that race week was close to $150 million.

Track officials said they already have hired a new parking consultant, Veteran's Security and Patrol Company, which manages parking at such venues as the Daytona International Speedway. They also will hire a traffic engineering company, yet to be announced, to use traffic modeling programs.

All improvements to the track's parking facilities and nearby roads are expected to be finished before the next Sprint Cup race on June 30, 2012, officials said.

Work will begin immediately on constructing gravel aisles every 60 feet in the track's existing grass parking area, Simendinger said. The move will help regulate parking spots and mitigate the impact of rain, he said.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the Kentucky Speedway, closed on the new property across the street last week. They bought the land from owner Jo Wischer for $1.5 million. Bulldozers were removing an old barn on the property on Tuesday.

The state's money will be used to expand the southbound ramp off of Interstate 71 at exit 57 to allow three lanes of traffic to exit onto Ky. Highway 35. Nearly 1 mile of Ky. Highway 35 will be widened to five lanes between the interstate and the speedway.

"We have an interest in not having cars backed up on Interstate 71," said Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe.

The money will come out of the Transportation Cabinet's contingency fund, Beshear said. He said the cabinet hopes to bid all three projects in one package late this year.

NASCAR President Mike Helton released a statement at the news conference, saying the group was pleased with the proposed upgrades.

"We've been in close touch with the track and its management since July and the significant commitments announcement today support the common goal of hosting the most successful events possible at Kentucky Speedway next season," Helton said.

Speedway officials have spent the past two months publicly apologizing for the traffic tie-up. They offered a ticket exchange for fans who couldn't get into the Speedway in July. They also had to endure the ribbing of rival tracks, such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which offered Kentucky fans free admission one day last month.

But with the improvements, they said, fans will be satisfied.

"We're doing so many things, you're going to like some of them," joked Bruton Smith, the owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

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