Tips on handling race traffic

Friday, May. 24, 2013

Fans leaving Charlotte Motor Speedway after this weekend’s races might find themselves being sent in what is seemingly the wrong direction, but officials say there’s no need to worry.

“Ultimately, you’ll get home faster if you follow troopers’ directions,” said Scott Cole of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The N.C. Highway Patrol sometimes sends fans northbound on Interstate 85 when they really want to go south. But the idea is those fans can turn around on I-85 an exit or two north of the Bruton Smith Boulevard interchange, then return south.

“That’s sometimes quicker than trying to get on a southbound exit ramp,” said Scott Cooper, the speedway’s vice president of communications.

Following troopers’ directions is merely one of several suggestions being offered by officials for motorists who will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend – or merely traveling anywhere near the track.

Crowds of more than 100,000 are expected for races Saturday and Sunday, and the Highway Patrol uses a number of special strategies to get people in, out and around the speedway smoothly.

Here are six tips on how to effectively deal with traffic in northern Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties Saturday and Sunday:

1. Arrive early

For the most part, NASCAR fans have learned to do this in recent years. Speedway officials schedule a number of special attractions in the hours before the races. If you arrive a few hours before racing begins, you should have no problems.

2. Avoid I-85, if possible

“The untold secret, coming from the north, is using U.S. 29 or N.C. 49,” Cole said. “Because they’ll bring you right to the track.” Taking either of those routes typically is quicker than using Interstate 85 and dealing with crowded interchanges.

The same is true from the south. Most experts suggest using Interstate 485 and exiting at either N.C. 49 (University City Boulevard) or U.S. 29 (North Tryon Street), then heading north to the track.

Interstate 85 is especially tricky this year because of construction in Cabarrus County, part of the widening project. “There are two lanes in each direction, and they’re rather narrow,” says Davis Diggs, also of the NCDOT. “If you’re using I-85, pay attention to the message signs.”

3. Follow police instructions

Authorities typically will set up counter-flow measures after the races. That means some roads might become one-way away from the speedway for an hour or two.

In addition, motorists leaving some parking lots at the speedway might be routed north on I-85, even if they want to go south.

They’ll be able to turn around on I-85 and come back south. That will be quicker than trying to negotiate slow-moving traffic and trying to get on southbound I-85 at Bruton Smith Boulevard.

4. Be careful

Troopers say they are always nervous about the heavy pedestrian traffic in the darkness after the Sunday night Coca-Cola 600.

“There are a lot of people who park in lots farther up (U.S.) 29 from the speedway, then walk along the road at night,” says Highway Patrol 1st Sgt. Glenn Stokes. “My advice to them is to be careful. Stay out of the road – stay on the shoulder.”

And to motorists, he adds, “Be very careful. Watch for troopers directing traffic, and for pedestrians.”

5. Use shuttle buses

“Charlotte Area Transportation Services will run shuttle buses to and from the track, and that’s a very good way of making the trip,” the speedway’s Cooper said.

CATS shuttles will leave uptown Charlotte noon-6 p.m. Sunday, with departures from the Charlotte Transportation Center on East Trade Street and the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Brevard Street. Buses will leave every 20 minutes and drop off fans near the main entrance of the speedway. Return routes begin 20 minutes after the checkered flag.

Fans are permitted to bring small coolers that fit on their laps, but no eating or drinking is permitted on buses.

6. Remember the races

If you’re not attending the races, you still might get caught up in the traffic. It would be good to avoid I-85 near the speedway between noon and 6 p.m. Saturday and 1-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday and early Monday.

In addition, traffic sometimes gets quite heavy on North Tryon Street, from the UNC Charlotte campus northward – and on University City Boulevard north of I-485. Remember that traffic will be heavy Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and allow extra time for trips in that area.

Lyttle: 704-358-6107