By Johnny Jackson
Once on a tour stop in Atlanta, comedian Lewis Black wondered how people could sit in traffic all day, just waiting to go watch people drive fast.
But the joke's no longer on us.
A new Georgia Highway 20 opened Monday afternoon just in time for the (Oct. 28-30) Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 weekend at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. And the hope is that the days of congested traffic both in and out of AMS will equally come to a halt.
Several Henry and Clayton county representatives were on hand to dedicate the opening of the highway in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue.
”It's a great day for this race track,“ said Harold Linnenkohl, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, to which Perdue agreed.
”Harold, it is a good day,“ Perdue added. ”Build it, and they will come. You built it, and they will come. It is truly an economic development project. Not even a tornado can stop this place.“
The four-lane divided stretch from Interstate 75 to the Atlanta Motor Speedway was named the Bruton Smith Parkway, after the Speedway Motorsports, Inc., CEO.
The $35 million project, which was coordinated by two contractors, represents the second major artery to the speedway that should help on race days. It joins Georgia Highway 19/41 and I-75 before it leads race goers to the southern corner of the speedway.
Several people gathered on a five-lane section of the renovated highway, including couple Carl and Alice Pendley, both 85 years old. They live in Hampton along this asphalt express, and they are thrilled.
”The road is right in our yard,“ said Alice Pendley. ”We like it. It's going to be nice. It's right at our door,“ she said. ”It's great to live in the city limits and have the road by our house.“
The couple stood on the steamy road, putting their backs to the East Turn stands a few hundred yards away as dark scattered clouds threatened to open overhead. Smiling still, they said they didn't want to miss the dedication.
Carl Pendly has lived there virtually his entire life, remarking on memories of the 1930s when they traveled by dirt roads to the house. The new highway was expanded from a two-lane highway.
”I think it's a great day,“ said Eldrin Bell, Clayton County Commission Chairman. ”It's a wonderful opportunity for the Southern Crescent to continue to develop. It will act as a reliever for 19/41. It will be a great advantage.“
Bell mentioned taking additional steps to improve and expand the regional airport near the speedway.
”Last race, I think I parked near 200 planes,“ he said. ”I'd like to park 500 with the greatest consideration of the people who live here.“
Dorothy Daniel, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the project was paid entirely from tax dollars. The widening of the highway was constructed in two phases. The contractors were E R Snell Contractor, Inc., and Puryear and Sons Grading Company, Inc. The two projects, together totaled 10.385 miles and included realignment of portions of the highway and of Richard Petty Boulevard.
”It's essential for the growth in Henry County,“ she said. ”(But) it's going to be a benefit to the state of Georgia.“