Kentucky Speedway avoids repeat of last year's traffic nightmare

ahancock@herald-leader.com, dmoore@herald-leader.comJune 30, 2012 

SPARTA — Kentucky Speedway left Carmageddon in the dust Saturday.

A new $11 million traffic strategy gave fans at Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 a much smoother experience compared to last year's inaugural race.

The infrastructure improvements included widening roads near the track and adding 220 acres of gravel-covered parking lots, a pedestrian tunnel and a shuttle system.

Fans arrived early and without delay, many saying they appreciated the organization.

Last year, Roger and Valerie Pitts left their home in Paris around 11 a.m. and sat in standstill traffic for five hours, which they blamed on a small and overwhelmed parking staff.

"There was no one directing traffic last year, and the policemen were just driving around," Valerie said. "They weren't doing anything."

This year, however, the couple said they drove right into one of the newly graveled parking lots without stopping once. They were shocked, they said, to be standing in the parking lot by 12:30.

"This year, you've got people telling you where to go and what to do," she said.

Amanda Schwettman of Cincinnati was one of the 300 parking attendants hired from Veteran Security Parking as part of this year's parking plan. As she motioned cars into one of the lots, she gave friendly but direct instructions to keep order among the hundreds of tents.

"If you guys are tailgating, pick up your mess," Schwettman said. "That's all I ask."

Along with the attendants, a large contingent of state troopers directed cars into perfect rows, one at a time. One driver who did not want to follow the plan was quickly stopped and redirected.

Kentucky State Police spokesman Brad Arterburn sent email and radio updates on the traffic flow every half-hour and reported no major delays or backups throughout the day. From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., the hour during which Arterburn expected the bulk of congestion, five lanes of Ky. 35 steadily handled all incoming race traffic from Interstate 71.

Tom Haggin, 68, of Nicholasville, who missed the race last year because of traffic woes, decided to give the race another chance, although he suspects many were too discouraged to do the same.

"Everyone wanted to see the inaugural race, and it left a bad taste in their mouth with some of the basics being ignored," he said.

The race, which sold out its 107,000 capacity last year, had thousands of empty seats this year. However, Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said he was optimistic about ticket sales and was simply glad to see the long-awaited plan unfold.

"I'm not surprised — traffic flowed like we hoped and expected," Simendinger said. "The team executed it really well. I'm proud of them."

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