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Formula 1 racetrack could bring $15 million in road improvements

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 by Michael Kanin

A plan to mitigate the expected traffic impact of a southeast Travis County Formula 1 racetrack may cost as much as $15 million. If implemented, it would include the widening of FM 812 and Elroy Road to, potentially, five lanes for each project.


It was still not clear on Tuesday whether the county or promoters would pay for those changes.


The news came as representatives from the group trying to bring a race to the Austin area provided Travis County Commissioners with a better picture of what local residents can expect from the facility. In court, they unveiled a conceptual master plan and offered a bit more detail on their timetable.


The road work proposition came during testimony from Travis Transportation and Natural Resources staff. There, David Greer detailed the idea, which he said would reduce potential traffic delays at the site from 12 hours to three.


Armbrust and Brown lobbyist Richard Suttle again handled things for the F1 hopefuls. He told the Court that, in the weeks since he’d last been before it, his clients had hired two consultant firms, Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc. and Graham Lake-Grange, to work out the details of their efforts.


The latter company worked on traffic solutions for the racetrack at Silverstone, England. That facility is the one that proponents of the planned Austin Grand Prix have frequently compared to the one planned for Travis County.


He also noted that the Austin group, called Full Throttle Productions, had met with Transportation Executive Manager Joe Gieselman to discuss the project. That get-together was pending the last time Full Throttle was before the commissioners.


Suttle’s return to court followed an appearance that left some commissioners looking for more answers (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 8). Here, the conceptual master plan rounded out some picture of the place: “The multifunctional facility is being designed with year–round functionality and attractions,” reads a press release that announced the document. Proposed attractions within the development include a Driving/Riding Experience and Seminar Building, a Motorsports Driving Club and a (youth-centric) Kart Track.


Still, the traffic plans seemed to get more to the point. Gieselman told the court that he’d told Greer to work with getting delays in vacating the facility down from the 12 hours previously reported to three hours, the number that’s associated with Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.


“We were able to replicate, somewhat—in a very sketchy way—what’s happening in Fort Worth,” he said. “(There) they have a three hour delay, which, by some standards is acceptable for such a magnitude…event.”


Gieselman then pointed out just how preliminary the work was. “I also want to add that this is really a sketch analysis. We expect to work with the consultant,” he said.


Suttle explained what amounts to a very quick schedule for track construction. “The Formula 1 season goes from March to November…and that schedule is actually not published until December, prior to March,” he said. “So you don’t really know when your slot is going to be until (then)….We’ve been told we ought to be ready by June of 2012 because, historically, the Canadian Grand Prix has been somewhere in that timeframe and it’d be convenient (to host then)….


“In order to be ready by June of 2012, our engineers…tell us that we need to be able to start moving dirt in December of this year,” he continued. Suttle called the schedule “hopeful.”


After the hearing, Precinct 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt told In Fact Daily that she still had concerns. “I am satisfied that they are working as fast as they can,” she said. “I remain concerned that we’ll be able to do the due diligence necessary in the time that they’ve laid out.”

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