By Patrick Crowley
Enquirer staff writer
SPARTA - Work is beginning this week on a long-awaited $17 million road project that should help ease traffic congestion at the Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County.
A new, five-mile connector will be built just south of the speedway. It will run from the new Exit 55 interchange at Interstate 71 north to U.S. 42 at Markland Dam, which also serves as an Ohio River bridge between Gallatin County and southern Indiana.
Work is to begin todayand be completed in spring 2006, according to a statement from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
As much as 2.5 million cubic feet of dirt will be excavated, the cabinet said.
Though the project has been planned for years, it became more of a priority when the Kentucky Speedway opened five years ago, said speedway president Mark Simendinger.
"It's encouraging that this project is moving forward," Simendinger said. "It was supposed to be done as part of the original agreement between us and the state. We appreciate the (Gov. Ernie) Fletcher administration making sure this thing happens."
The road will make it easier for speedway patrons to the use the track's back, or south, entrance. That will help traffic flow on race days, Simendinger said.
Six major road projects totaling $60 million have already been completed near the speedway.
The road will also provide another route between I-71 and Warsaw, the Gallatin County seat. The most common route now is Ky. 35, but it is a hilly and winding road that can be difficult to travel in bad weather.
The Belterra Casino and Resort in Indiana could also benefit. It is just east of the Markland Dam bridge. The road will improve access between I-71 - the main corridor between Greater Cincinnati and Louisville - and the dam.
"I think this project would have eventually been done with or without the speedway," Simendinger said. "But certainly the speedway has served as a catalyst."
The Transportation Cabinet said signs would be posted to alert motorists to changes in traffic patterns that will occasionally occur during construction.
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