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Formula 1 group wants Travis County to pay for road costs

Thursday, April 5, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Despite a promise to chip in for a portion of the road construction costs associated with the expected traffic impact of their Formula 1 event, officials with the Circuit of the Americas racetrack have asked Travis County for an economic incentives package that would offset their financial obligations. If approved, the deal would have the effect of diminishing or eliminating the track’s promised contribution to the construction of roads in an area that will be directly impacted by the race.


Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt summarized the situation as she sees it for In Fact Daily. “It appears that (Circuit of the Americas) does not have the money to pay for the road agreement with Travis County and they are now asking the taxpayers to pay for the roads entirely,” she said.


The improvements in question include work on multiple stretches of roadway including a widening of Elroy Road and an extension of Kellam Road to Pearce Lane.  


In Fact Daily learned of the request as members of the Commissioners Court expressed concern that track officials have yet to submit a series of documents promised to the county. If not resolved soon, the hold-up could begin to jeopardize the first of the facility’s potential events, a still-unconfirmed opening celebration that would happen sometime before the track’s first Formula 1 race in mid-November.  


With that in mind, commissioners issued a set of formal submission deadlines for racetrack officials. They will also send a series of weekly communications to the circuit that will serve to update track and county officials about their mutual progress on the documents.


Track spokeswoman Julie Loignon told In Fact Daily via email that the application was done “with a focus on partnering with the County on improvements to certain roads that will help improve ingress and egress to the facility and help public safety and emergency services personnel access the venue during major events held there.”


“We have not determined the total cost but are hoping to partner with the County, whereby (Circuit of the Americas) would cover the expense to start the road improvements immediately and then receive a performance-based reimbursement from the County when the work is completed,” Loignon added.


The outstanding documents in question include a Mass Gatherings permit, a road construction agreement, a public safety plan, and a traffic management plan. As part of the agreement between the county and the racetrack, the road construction agreement is supposed to be completed before any development permits after phase six of track construction can be issued. County officials issued the developments permits for phase six on March 30.


Though Commissioners were concerned about the situation, county staff seemed optimistic that all outstanding issues would be resolved. “They’ve been working really well with us this whole period,” said Travis County Traffic Program Manager David Greear. “We do feel that we are getting very close to a transportation plan.”


The Commissioners Court approved a variance that cleared the way for the construction of the then-unnamed racetrack in December 2010. Court members received a briefing on a traffic study that day, but the issue still awaits further discussion. Initial estimates put traffic delays due to Formula 1 weekend at roughly 12 hours in the vicinity of the track. Racetrack consultants told Commissioners at that time that the figure had been brought down to three hours (See In Fact Daily, Dec. 15, 2010).


“The first year is probably going to be a mess,” Greear said at the time. “I don’t think it’s going to be perfect (the next) two or three times, but I think it will get better over time.


Fast-forward about a year-and-a-half, and the group behind the Circuit of the Americas project is already deep into construction on the facility. A Formula 1 race has been scheduled. Still, according to the Commissioners Court testimony of multiple county managers, the county has not yet approved a crucial set of documents.


Eckhardt laid out the situation. “That may actually move the time schedule up,” she said. “We need that date.”


The court proceeded to set a handful of deadlines. County Judge Sam Biscoe moved for an initial deadline of April 30 that would be followed by a final deadline of June 1 and a public hearing on the matter sometime in July. It passed by unanimous vote.


Loignon told In Fact Daily that the track may stage a pre-race event but has “nothing to announce at this time” about it. She said that track officials continue to work with the county to complete their permit applications. Loignon offered no firm dates of submission.


The State of Texas has agreed to $25 million in incentives from the state’s major events trust fund after the race has been completed if the event brings in sufficient tax revenues.

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