Highway dedications scheduled for October

By Michael Davis

Atlanta Motor Speedway owner Bruton Smith can add to the list of things to which his name is attached.

Oct. 10, the state will officially name a portion of Ga. Highway 20 the Bruton Smith Parkway, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.

Smith was instrumental in getting the road, which serves as one of the main arteries to the speedway and jams with fans on the twice-yearly race weekends, widened to four lanes. He is the president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns five other superspeedways as well.

He began his career as an auto dealer and race promoter in the 1950s, during the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR)'s early days, according to a company bio. Under construction for about two years the Ga. 20 project takes the route from two lanes to four, with a median, on the entire stretch between Interstate 75 and the race track.

The new route also bridges the busy U.S. Highway 19/41, which runs north and south on the track's east side and serves as its main entrance. An improved Ga. 20 is expected to somewhat relieve traffic, where on race day, several lanes are reversed to give more people access into and out of the 870-acre track grounds.

"This is a great, great thing for Atlanta Motor Speedway," said track spokeswoman Marcy Scott of the highway. "It gives a second major thoroughfare to and from the track for all of our race fans," she said.

The new road will also be an improvement for the city of Hampton, the downtown of which lies just east, the city's manager said. The new Ga. 20 bypasses the city's small downtown district and leads directly to the track.

"Thank the Lord," Hampton City Manager Johnny Williams said. "Because it will get all of the trucks out of our downtown area," he said. "That will be a tremendous improvement to our community."

Williams said the road might even spur development of a new town center near one of the likely commercial intersections. Several projects along the corridor are already in planning stages. A joint project of Henry County, the cities of Hampton and McDonough, and the Atlanta Regional Commission under way would establish an overlay district along the corridor to manage its impending development. A more than 1 million -square-foot shopping center is planned at the convergence of Ga. 20 and 81 in McDonough.

Over the past week, the DOT opened a new stretch from McDonough Street east to the interstate: two eastbound lanes and one west bound lane while crews were working to finish paving.

Henry County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kay Pippin said the opening of the east bound side has caused some confusion, but welcomes the additional road capacity. She said the day it opened, several accidents were caused when drivers pulling out onto it apparently did not realize the lanes were open to traffic.

"It was a little hazardous, but we're adjusting," she said. "As much as we like to kick transportation planners and road builders and the DOT ... we really should take our hats off [to them]."

The Oct. 10 "ribbon-cutting" and reception will be held at the speedway, and both Smith and Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue are expected to be on hand. Scott, the speedway spokeswoman, said the track is keeping quiet on other details of the event.

Dorothy Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said in a news release the stretch from McDonough Street to the track would not be open to traffic until the dedication date.