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Speedway traffic fixes announced, but who is to blame for 'Carmageddon?'

Speedway traffic fixes announced, but who is to blame for 'Carmageddon?'

Kentucky Speedway owner Bruton Smith and Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear watch crews clear farmland for more speedway parking.

by Joe Arnold


Posted on August 31, 2011 at 12:49 AM

(WHAS11)  Who is to blame for the traffic delays that prevented an estimated 20,000 NASCAR fans from attending the Inaugural Quaker State 400 in July?

With both Kentucky Speedway and the state of Kentucky announcing that each will spend millions of dollars to prevent a repeat of "Carmageddon," both track officials and Governor Steve Beshear declined to directly assess blame on Tuesday.

Yet, each suggested changes offered by the other would make a significant difference.

Because Beshear has taken credit for both landing the Sprint Cup race and for the improvements announced Tueday, WHAS11 asked him if he also shared any accountability for the traffic problems.

"Well, certainly I'm not the only one who helped bring the Sprint race here," Beshear challenged the premise of the question, "The legislature worked with me to do that.  And, we passed some special incentives that caused Bruton Smith and SMI to make the decision to come and bring that Sprint Cup race here. So, there's enough credit to go around there."

After the embarrassing start to Kentucky's role in the Sprint Cup series, Senate President David Williams - who is running against Beshear in the governor's race - announced that he would hold legislative hearings in September to address the traffic problems.
One day later, Beshear announced that he was appointing his chief of staff, Mike Haydon, to lead the state probe into improving access to the track.

Beshear was asked on Tuesday what share of the traffic problem was the highway infrastructure rather than track parking.

"I don't know how you divide that up," the governor said, "I mean, you had a tremendous parking problem here and you had it because so many people wanted to get here. I mean, that's the good news about that Sprint Cup race is that people were just clamoring to get here to see it and I think they will continue to do that year after year. But we need to take care of them better, obviously."

"The state worked with the Speedway to cause the traffic to move," Beshear said, "And, we had some back-ups and so we're taking some steps, they're taking some steps.  And, together, we're going to be solving the problem."

Does that mean it won't happen again?

"Well, it won't happen like it happened this time," Beshear responded, "As I mentioned to you, I don't know of a NASCAR race that doesn't have traffic problems."

Less than one week after the July race, Kentucky Speedway owner Bruton Smith blasted the state's role.
“I'm sorry we had such traffic," Smith said at a news conference at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as reported by autoweek.com, "Although I had continuously warned people about that interstate. I told everybody who'd listen that I-71 sucked. It's terrible, the lousiest piece of interstate I've driven on. I was hoping it would get some attention. It maybe got a little, but it sure didn't get a lot. That's what we were dealing with. When we go back you'll find that maybe someone has done something about it."

"I was very, very concerned," Smith told WHAS11 on Tuesday when asked about his prior comments.

Asked if the state is doing enough now to make up for the deficiencies, Smith suggested an additional change.

"In New Hampshire, they paved the shoulders and we used the road up there as four lanes," Smith explained, "and the signage is 'use all four lanes.'  And I'm hoping that we get the shoulders paved here on 71. We'll use four lanes instead of the two."

Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger acknowledged on Tuesday that, in hindsight, the farmland across the highway from the speedway is an obvious location for parking.

"You ever notice that the second shot in golf is better than the first one?" Simendinger said, "because you know what you did wrong?"

Kentucky Speedway is spending close to $8 million to add 35 percent more parking.

The state is spending $3.6 million to widen both the I-71 southbound exit ramp and a state highway, and for a pedestrian tunnel from the new parking area under the highway to the speedway.

The transportation cabinet plans to tap its contingency fund to pay for its share of the work.

Finally, track officials dismissed the suggestion that any NASCAR fans share some blame for not allowing more time to arrive at the race.

"Everybody learns," Simendinger said, "But, I can't blame the fans.  You know, the fans are great. The fans did everything we asked them to do."

He said most fans who were offered a free ticket to attend a future Sprint Cup race are opting to give the Kentucky Speedway and the Quaker State 400 another chance.

"We messed up that day," Simendinger said, "Don't let my mistake rob you of an opportunity to come see great racing."