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Formula One means big upgrades for FM 812

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

TxDOT District Engineer Carlos Lopez warned CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board last night it can expect an amendment to the CAMPO 2035 plan to accommodate roadway improvements around the proposed $180 million Formula 1 racetrack in southeast Travis County.


According to recent media reports, the anticipated Formula 1 track is expected to pour $300 million into the Austin economy each year, employing up to 1,500 workers during construction and 1,200 during race weekend. State subsidies are helping to bankroll the effort. Tentative plans are that Austin would host its first Formula 1 race, among other track events, starting in 2012.


The 900 or so acres chosen for the track are off SH 130 near the Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Lopez told the CAMPO board that the location would require significant roadway and traffic improvements along FM 812 to accommodate initial and ongoing traffic for the race.


“The current CAMPO 2035 has nothing in the plan for upgrades to that part of the road,” Lopez said. “Knowing that this type of development is coming, we know that we will need some type of upgrade of the two-lane two-way farm-to-market road.”


No traffic analysis has been completed, but Lopez’s early guess is an expansion to a four-lane roadway with two continuous turn lanes between US 183 and SH 21, is necessary to handle what is anticipated to be upwards of 90,000 vehicles descending on the track for a single weekend’s race.


It’s unlikely that the road projects will be complete before the first race in 2012. Lopez and a team from TxDOT, as well as Travis County, will be traveling up to Texas Motor Speedway to review how the contraflow lanes work for its three major race weekends, which can bring up to 250,000 cars and RVs to the outskirts of Fort Worth. During race weekends, it can take three hours or longer to make it to the track, which sits at the intersection of Interstate 35 and SH 114.


“Texas Motor Speedway has been doing this since 1998,” Lopez said. “This is no time for our area to begin from Ground Zero when we can learn from them. They’ve refined their plan over the years, and we’ve invited CAMPO staff and Travis County staff to join us to take a look at what they do.”


The Formula 1 track itself is expected to cost about $180 million. Lopez said initial plans, once they are worked up for both temporary contraflow and permanent improvements, would be presented to the developer. At that point, the discussion will begin as to how much the developer can contribute to the project.


The full cost of traffic enforcement and contraflow lanes for the initial race would certainly be passed on to the operators of the Formula 1 track, Lopez said.


In other action at the CAMPO Transportation Policy Board meeting:


  • The board voted to approve a transitional Transportation Improvement Plan for 2011 to 2014, with only former Sunset Valley Mayor Jeff Mills opposing the plan. Input was fairly limited, in the final round of meetings, with some complaints about toll roads and last-minute support for the State Highway 45 Southwest extension. Without the approval of the plan at last night’s meeting, CAMPO would have had no projects on the books when the TIP went into effect on Oct. 1;

  • CAMPO agreed to be a regional partner in an application to HUD for a $5 million sustainable communities regional planning grant. The grant, if approved, would advance the current efforts of CAMPO and Envision Central Texas to support and enhance policies around regional population nodes, known in the CAMPO 2035 plan as Activity Centers. The grant application is due August 23. If approved, additional local partners will be added to the grant partners, interim executive director Maureen McCoy assured County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt; and

  • The board approved some small grants and interlocal agreements to deal with ongoing issues. One motion extended an interlocal agreement with the Texas Transportation Institute to review ozone and greenhouse gas scenarios under the CAMPO 2035 regional transportation plan. Another was an interlocal agreement with CAPCOG to conduct baseline and multi-year scenarios for on-road mobile source points, otherwise known as car vehicle emissions. And a third was to accepting $10,000 from Austin Energy to defray a portion of the cost of the Commute Solutions Program next spring. Another $30,000 will be rolled forward from this year for the program, which is intended to encourage use of mass transit, cycling and telecommuting. The cost of Commute Solutions, an annual event, is typically somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000, McCoy said.

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