I really try to keep this blog positive and on topic, but have to share a negative experience with my readers. It does have principles of Civil Engineering, though, so maybe one out of two ain’t bad?
My wife and I had (good) tickets to the inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup Race at the Kentucky Speedway this past Saturday night (July 9, 2011). On a normal day, it’d be an hour and a half drive. Knowing that traffic was going to be heavy, we left 5 3/4 hours before the scheduled start time. The first 60 or so miles of the 85 mile trip were smooth sailing. As we approached the I-75/I-71 Split, near Walton, KY, traffic began to slow.
Then, things went from bad to worse. Traffic came to a standstill around 15 miles from the primary exit for the Speedway. There were no visible accidents or reasons for the delay other than volume. Nor were there any Traffic Control Officers or informational signage to expedite traffic flow.
As we scanned the radio frequencies for reports from the facility, we heard track owner Bruton Smith claiming that I-71 was the worst Interstate in the country and something needed to be done to fix it. He said they needed the 2 lane Interstate widened to 6 lanes, but would compromise on 5 ½ (very glib fellow, that Mr. Smith).
I’ll spare some of the details (links with more info posted below, for those who are interested). My answer to Mr. Smith is this;
“If your drain is clogged, don’t blame your faucet for the flood.”.
While I-71 is bumpy and patched, it is far from the worst section of Interstate Highway I’ve driven. And, it was not to blame for what became an 18-20 mile traffic jam from the north and a slightly shorter one from the south.
The issue was the facility was not capable of “draining” traffic off I-71.
Piecing together reports from those who actually made it into the facility, there was a shortage of Parking Lot Attendants and signage, no enforcement of how many spaces one car commandeered for their tailgating space and many of the lots required crossing oncoming traffic to enter. A lack of access lanes (which should have been directionally limited to inbound-only pre-race and outbound-only post-race) and queuing area contributed to the build-up.
The only thing additional lanes on I-71 would have accomplished might have been to allow traffic that was simply trying to get past the Speedway to some other destination to pass by. We weren’t happy, but felt very, very bad for folks who got caught up in the mess trying to get to somewhere else.
The “National Anthem” fighter jets flew over us as we were stopped between exits 57 and 55 (a last minute sign instructed all race traffic to proceed past exit 57 to exit 55 for parking). We watched as fans, in desperation, parked alongside the road and began to walk to the Speedway (still miles away).
We finally parked our vehicle on a make-shift spot inside the grounds at 8:35pm EDT – as the race was well underway. The busses/trams were stuck in the same lanes as race fans, so we started to walk to the track. A much needed stop at two overflowing porta-potties dampened our spirits even more and, as we gazed at the grandstands miles in the distance (see pic above), we came to the realization that we would not get through the gates before the Checkered Flag flew. We returned to our car and drove back (in 1 ½ hours, once we hit I-71 at exit 55).
Not an impressive debut for Kentucky Speedway. At the time of this writing, there is no official word from Bruton Smith / Speedway Motorsports, Inc / SMI (owners of the facility) or NASCAR on refunds.
Before the Commonwealth of Kentucky caves into demands to widen I-71, the Kentucky Speedway should be required to modify their facility, traffic control and fan conveyance plans (including hiring professional staff on race days) to accommodate the 107,000 seats they sold for the event (tens of thousands of which went unused). I’m sure there are Civil Engineers among the readership who could help with that (See? I told you part of this was on-topic!).
Footnote: I’ve driven to NASCAR Cup races at Daytona, Indianapolis and Michigan. All of those facilities hold as many, or more fans and move traffic much more effectively than Kentucky Motor Speedway did Saturday night.
For more info, visit:
Dave (NASCAR fan since the bias ply tire days)