Experts brace for Speedway traffic
For area motorists, Kansas Speedway's first major event could mean cruise or crawl.
In Tonganoxie, the great unknown is: How many drivers will be traveling through town as they go to and from the Speedway.
"It's hard to say," said Matt Volz, Kansas Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems engineer.
"You are going to have an increase in traffic on 24-40 through Tonganoxie, but that will be mainly from the locals who know that's going to be the back-door route into the race area."
Tonganoxie Police Chief Ken Carpenter, who's doubling his on-duty officers from two to four on race weekends, thinks U.S. Highway 24-40 will be a popular route for Speedway-goers.
"My only concern is that traffic will back up at 24-40 and K-16 where the road goes from four lanes to two lanes," Carpenter said. "If it stays steady all the way from the raceway to here, which it likely would do, we would have a backup at that intersection."
The Tonganoxie police chief isn't so concerned about pre-race traffic.
"Before it starts, traffic will be scattered," he said. "But when it ends, we'll catch it all at once."
It is clear, however, that northeast Kansas traffic will be affected by the Speedway. The Kansas Highway Patrol plans on calling in extra troopers on race weekends at an estimated cost of $135,000.
State and local traffic planners have teamed up to keep traffic sailing during the track's first major race, the June 2 ARCA/REMAX and NASCAR West series.
"We're doing everything we can to prepare for the traffic," said Fred Backus, engineer for the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County. "Being the first time, we don't know exactly what we're facing."
Employed to enhance traffic flow will be portable closed-circuit televisions and electronic message boards, an AM radio station and 35 additional Kansas Highway Patrol officers, as well as law enforcement officers from Wyandotte County, Bonner Springs and Edwardsville, Backus said.
Smile, you're on
Volz, of KDOT, said the closed-circuit television (CCTV) system is the newest technology.
"The CCTV is on a portable trailer and the CCTV can be raised up off the trailer and moved around," Volz said.
"It can zoom in, pan broadcast it back to our command post. The CCTV is remotely operated from the command post."
The CCTV station can be moved to different locations, as needed.
The command post will be set up in the Bonner Springs KDOT office, which is south of the Kansas Highway 7 and U.S. 24-40 interchange, a site about 2.5 miles west of the Speedway.
Volz said he expects the television system to be an asset to traffic controllers.
"Our staff will be able to visually see what's going on out there and confirm what we're hearing from calls by motorists and from traffic patrol on the scene," Volz said. "It's really important to incident management. If we see something, we can go out there accordingly, have an ambulance out there or a fire truck."
Manning the command post will be representatives of Kansas Highway Patrol, KDOT, the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County, Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Highway Patrol, Kansas Turnpike Authority and related agencies.
Motorists may be already familiar with the electronic message boards.
"These are the orange signs that we put on the sides of the roads when we put messages on for construction projects," Volz said.
The portable signs are set up on trailers and they are equipped with cellular modems, connected to computers in the command center.
"So you can just dial them up and change your message on them," Volz said.
The message boards on trailers will be located where needed the most.
Fixed signs along major roads will alert motorists to tune to a specific AM radio station for traffic updates.
"The highway advisory radio is a small radio broadcast station on a trailer that can be moved around," Volz said. "The trailer will be located at a spot where it can broadcast and reach as many people as possible."
This is important, Volz said, not only for Speedway-goers, but for drivers passing through the area.
"We've got to let them know, as well, that they need to stay in a certain lane to bypass the race traffic," Volz said.
Travelers on Interstate 70 will also have to navigate their way through extra traffic.
Alan Bakatitis, toll operations director for Kansas Turnpike Authority, said the turnpike has long been preparing for the flow of Speedway traffic.
In October 2000, KTA moved the eastern toll plaza from Bonner Springs to a site about 10 miles west.
This move was made for two reasons, Bakatitis said.
"We knew that Speedway traffic was coming in. And that, coupled with traffic from Sandstone, creates a bottleneck there."
Additionally, he said, the Bonner Springs toll plaza was landlocked and couldn't construct additional toll lanes.
But the new eastern terminal has 11 staffed lanes, in addition to a dedicated K-Tag lane.
Typically, only four of the six staffed exit lanes are open, but Bakatitis said he expected on race weekends to see all of the exit lanes for toll collection open.
How much additional revenue the turnpike authority will see because of Speedway traffic is unclear.
"If they're traveling from the east and come into the area that way, we won't get a single dime out of them," Bakatitis said. "But if they're coming from the west, going there for that single day or moteling in from Topeka or Lawrence, we will have the revenue. But exactly how much, we have no way of knowing at this point."
Troopers on patrol
Kansas Highway Patrol Capt. Larry Baumchen is commander for division's Troop A, which includes Leavenworth, Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties. So it's Baumchen's job to recruit the 35 additional highway patrolmen from across Kansas that will assist area troopers on race weekends.
"The 35 will be on actual traffic control points," Baumchen said, "They will be helping traffic get off of the interstate highways and onto the roads leading into the actual track."
Although no extra troopers will patrol the Tonganoxie area, Baumchen said officers would be on duty to respond to calls.
The highway patrol will pick up the tab for the 35 troopers.
"We're planning on two nights of motel expense and meal expenses," he said.
The extra troopers would only be on duty on the actual weekend race days, not during qualifying races on Thursdays and Fridays.
Lt. John Eichkorn, KHP spokesman, said the estimated total cost for three race weekends would be $135,000. For each weekend, the cost would be about:
$34,000 for salaries.
$3,600 for lodging
$2,800 for other expenses, such as food.
$1,200 for fuel.
Additionally, there will be a one-time cost of $10,200 to purchase equipment, such as radios for troopers who are away from their cars, flares, cones, orange vests and extra flashlights.
A little leaner
While the additional officers should help traffic near the Speedway, the troopers may be missed in other parts of the state.
"It will make us leaner in those areas where we'll pulling people away," Eichkorn said.
But Eichkorn said that not much can be done about that at least not until the state approves wage increases for troopers.
"We are trying to hire additional people," he said. "We're having a hard time now recruiting new troopers because our pay has not kept up with other law enforcement pay inside and outside of the state."
Other area law enforcement agencies also have been working on the traffic plans.
Baumchen said Kansas City, Kan., police will patrol State Avenue and Parallel Road. Bonner Springs police will patrol Kansas Highway 7, and Edwardsville police will handle K-32 and Interstate 435 in their area.
Leavenworth County Sheriff Herb Nye said he would likely have two extra officers on duty to handle traffic in the county.
Nye said he expected to see bumper-to-bumper traffic as far away as Tonganoxie.
"I think it's going to be more of an inconvenience and a nuisance more than anything," Nye said. "I would hate to be a person trying to go westbound on 24-40 once that race lets out."
Planning for race traffic has been in conjunction with Kansas Speedway, Baumchem said.
Tom Wilson, the Speedway's security manager, is a retired KHP trooper who worked with Baumchen two years ago, helping plan for anticipated Speedway traffic.
"Subsequently he retired and got a job up there with the Speedway," Baumchen said. "He knows what our problems are and we have a good working relationship. So it does help."
After the June 2 race, Baumchen said, review sessions will be held.
"We're going to decide what went right and what went wrong," Baumchen said. "And we'll plan for the race that's going to be in July."