NASCAR: Kentucky Speedway problems to be worked out
LOUISVILLE, Ky. ó Road crews, start your engines.
The state awarded a highway contract Monday to improve traffic flow and safety near Kentucky Speedway, where a massive gridlock of idled fans during the trackís inaugural Sprint Cup Series event caught as much attention as the racing.
The $3.7 million contract was awarded to Sunesis Construction Co. of West Chester, Ohio ó one of five bidders, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet said. The low bid from Sunesis came in $220,183 below the cabinetís estimate.
Work crews will widen an exit ramp and a highway near the northern Kentucky racetrack and will add a pedestrian tunnel.
Meanwhile, the track is well along in adding parking to avoid a repeat of the traffic jam that marred the Sprint Cup event last July. Brake lights stretched for miles, and some irate fans missed the race. The speedway offered them ticket exchanges.
ěOur pledge to fans has been that we will never experience the traffic delays like our inaugural race, and these changes, along with changes in our staffing and traffic plan, assure our success,î Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said Monday.
The speedway will get another chance to prove itself to Sprint Cup fans next year.
The track at Sparta, just off Interstate 71 between Louisville and Cincinnati, will hold two Nationwide Series events in 2012, along with a Sprint Cup race. It will hold Sprint Cup, Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races on June 28-30. A second Nationwide race will be paired with a truck event on Sept. 21-22.
So far, the efforts to create smoother traffic flow are getting a thumbs-up from NASCAR.
ěWeíve been in close communications with the track and its management since last July, and we have been pleased to date with the progress and commitment that has been made,î NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said in a statement.
The track expects to have considerably more parking available before those races next year.
The speedway is developing a 143-acre tract into parking across the highway from the track, and the work should be done by May 15, Simendinger said in an email. The track also has contracted with an experienced parking management company.
Itís also converting about 40 acres of previously unusable land for additional parking, he said.
Speedway Motorsports Inc.expects to spend about $7.5 million on the improvements, he said.
Speedway officials acknowledged in the past that parking lots had reached capacity faster than anticipated when more than 107,000 fans converged on the venue. Many fans said once they got to the gate, they were turned away because the track had run out of parking.
Now the state has joined in by awarding the contract to expand an exit ramp and a road near the speedway.
The new project includes adding a third lane of right-turn exit traffic coming off southbound I-71 onto Kentucky 35, which runs past the track. The ramp currently has two right-turn lanes.
Also, workers will widen six-tenths of a mile of Kentucky 35 to five lanes along with two full-width shoulders, state highway officials said.
And a new pedestrian tunnel built beneath the road will enable fans to walk safely from new parking lots, they said.
Highway officials said the work will increase safety.
ěMuch of the traffic caught in the backup on I-71 the day of the NASCAR Sprint Cup race was simply trying to pass through the area,î Kentucky Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock. ěAny backup on a roadway, especially an interstate, is potentially hazardous.î
The deadline for completing the project is May 25, the cabinet said.
Simendinger said the state was ěright on timeî with the awarding of the contract.
ěWe are confident that there is plenty of time to complete the project well in advance of next yearís Sprint Cup weekend,î he said.
The Associated Press