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While last year’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway was largely a success, the traffic and parking problems left a bad taste in the mouths of many race fans. Because of this, Kentucky State Police took the reigns this year and presented its traffic and parking plan at a news conference Thursday, June 21, at the racetrack.
KSP Post 5 Capt. Dean Hayes began by talking about the improvements made to the Sparta facility and surrounding area by the state and the speedway, including widening the I-71 southbound off-ramp, widening state Hwy. 35 to seven lanes and building a 170-foot-long, 42-foot-wide pedestrian tunnel.
Work on this year’s traffic and parking plan began in August. After reviewing the action plans from last year’s race and the traffic simulation model conducted by Stantec Consulting, troopers and personnel worked on a plan that incorporated proven methods that worked and improved on deficiencies, Hayes said.
“First question that comes to mind in review of last year’s plan was ‘If you can get 100,000 people out of here in three-and-a-half hours, why can’t you get them in in 13?’” Hayes said. “Well it’s pretty simple. First of all, you have to have somewhere for them to go, and second of all, you have to keep them moving.”
Hayes noted the speedway created an additional 20,000 parking spaces by purchasing new land and rehabilitating land that was not suitable for parking last year.
“What worked last year? I know it’s hard to believe anything worked, but actually our outbound plan worked really well,” Hayes said. “We were able to get 100-plus-thousand people out of here in three and a half hours. If you had asked me that at 9 o’clock on race day, I’d have said ‘no way.’”
The captain said this showed the cone layout plan was a success and will be used again this year for inbound and outbound traffic.
State police will use the coning process as opposed to troopers because it is more efficient and avoids delays related to drivers stopping to ask questions, said Trooper Michael Webb, KSP headquarters public affairs.
Webb distributed parking-lot maps to the media in attendance and encouraged them to publish the maps. The diagram also was e-mailed to the media after the news conference.
Race fans coming southbound from the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area will use I-71 Exit 57. Lanes will be coned off, and traffic will be directed along state Hwy. 35. There, all lanes will be directed inbound to maximize traffic flow. Once drivers reach Gate 3, they must decide to enter either the Ford parking lot or lots G, H, I and J, Webb said.
Drivers traveling northbound from the Louisville area will take I-71 Exit 55 and go through the same coning process on state Hwy. 1039. They will access the track through Speedway Boulevard and park in lots A, B, C and D.
“These traffic plans are designed to move large amounts of traffic in one designated direction, so if a person should decide or want to go an opposite direction during that time period, they’re going to have a problem,” Hayes said. “Again, this whole plan is designed for people coming to the race and people to leave the race. So if there are local people involved and trying to get from point A to point B, I would advise avoiding the race track area on that day.”
Kentucky Speedway has the ability to track the geographics of where tickets are being sold, which has allowed KSP to get an idea of the traffic expectations coming from the northern and southern areas, Webb said.
The traffic contingency plan includes pre-plan detours, and wreckers will be pre-positioned to deal with any issues on the interstate or on roads nearby the track, such as accidents or stalled vehicles. There also will be six Kentucky Department of Transportation safety patrol vehicles to assist.
At the conclusion of the race, parking lot traffic will be held until 30 minutes after the race to allow pedestrian traffic to disperse. “The co-mingling of vehicular traffic and pedestrian traffic can present some problems, so we are trying to allow as many pedestrians to get to their vehicles and off the roadway as possible,” Webb said. “Folks that are on the infield will be held for 90 minutes, and that again is to help us with the congestion, to reduce that. Really, the only way to leave the speedway early is if you’re going to be able to leave before the actual conclusion of the race.”
One of the biggest areas that needed to be fixed after last year was parking, including the lack of spaces and the way the vehicles were parked.
“The aerial photographs clearly show many more vehicles could have been parked than were parked. Other deficiencies were noted,” Hayes said. “In reality, the failed parking plan never allowed us to implement our traffic plan. Vehicles were stopped or moving at a snail’s pace; we weren’t really able to analyze whether or not the cone pattern we had set up was working or not.”
As a result, the speedway hired a new parking contractor, Veterans Security and Parking, and will have close to 300 parking attendants on site, double from last year.
“This year, KSP is in charge of both traffic and parking. Both have to work in concert together,” Hayes said. “As was discovered last year, they are not two individual details. Command, control and communication are imperative between the two for the whole plan to operate successfully. KSP will have a trooper in every parking lot to ensure the cars are being parked according to KSP’s parking plan. This includes parking multiple lots simultaneously, parking multiple rows simultaneously. Each car will be directed to a specific location in each individual lot.”
The Kentucky Speedway will provide trams and shuttles from the distant parking areas to the track, Webb said. “This is going to help us reduce the amount of pedestrian traffic co-mingling with motor vehicle traffic, hopefully to reduce any situation or incidents there.”
Another deficiency from last year’s race was the lack of communication to the public about the Sprint Cup race traffic, said Trooper Brad Arterburn, Post 5
public affairs. This year traffic updates will be released every 30 minutes or sooner depending on the situation.
Arterburn will e-mail updates to media contacts, and the AM 1620 radio station set up within a 5-mile radius around the track also will have updates. In addition, the KSP and Kentucky Speedway Facebook and Twitter (@kystatepolice and @KySpeedway) pages will each have the traffic updates.
Another issue last year was the commercial and motor vehicle traffic. This year, KSP will have signs located before I-71 in Northern Kentucky and Louisville to try to divert as much traffic as possible on to I-64 or I-75, Arterburn said.
“Commercial vehicles are just bigger. When they get in with race traffic it’s hard to merge, it’s hard to see, so if we can eliminate having those in there, we think that will help a lot,” he said.
Even with all of the construction improvements and changes to the traffic and parking plan, delays will not be completely eliminated, as with any large event, Hayes said.
“This is our second Sprint Cup race. I can tell you from working with the Transportation Cabinet, speedway officials and others that our team is committed to getting this thing right, and we will,” Hayes said. “This year, I guarantee you, will be better than last year, without a doubt. As you know, any major event where you have 100,000 people converging on one location, such as Churchill Downs, they’ve been doing that for 138 years and you go down there last year and they still had traffic congestion and issues, you had to wait in line, and that’s with any event. I can assure you we will continue to build on the lessons learned to make this plan better every year and to hopefully make the race day experience for the people coming better.”