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Council pushing for infrastructure, operational improvements at COTA

Thursday, December 9, 2021 by Chad Swiatecki

The city is preparing to use the coming renewal of Circuit of the Americas’ ability to receive state funding for major events as an opening to assess road and infrastructure improvements around the Southeast Austin facility, along with enhancing youth education programs for nearby students.

City Council was already set to consider the resolution that would have the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee be the city’s designee to receive roughly $25 million annually from the state to cover expenses for the Formula 1 race held each fall at the racetrack.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes has offered an amendment to that resolution that would require a comprehensive review of the race’s execution within 30 days of its completion, as well as conducting a study of the cost and possible timelines for road and public safety projects. Those projects include installation of sidewalks and bike lanes around the facility, expanding FM 812, installation of traffic signals at three major intersections impacted by event traffic, and improving signage and traffic personnel on event days.

Fuentes said she supports the CELOC renewal, but safety issues related to a pair of recent COTA events, including a Rolling Stones concert that caused hourslong traffic delays, make it necessary to take a closer look at the operations of the racetrack and concert venue.

“I wanted us to have a conversation because we’ve had two large-scale events recently at Circuit of the Americas where we had safety concerns and where there were significant traffic issues, and many of my neighbors in the district have reached out to share their concerns,” she said.

“For me it further magnified the gaps we have in our infrastructure and systems in the Southeast Austin community,” she added. “I’ve met with COTA representatives and with CELOC with the manager’s office and Austin Transportation Department to discuss the much-needed improvements.”

Fuentes’ amendment also directs the city manager to work with COTA leadership on the creation of a task force to address accessibility issues for the disabled. That issue was discussed at Monday’s Music Commission meeting, with some officials calling for the task force to take a wider view of accessibility issues at all music venues in Austin.

City staff were asked to bring information to today’s meeting related to the recent economic impacts of the Formula 1 race as well as the benefits it provides to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. They were also asked to bring information relating to the post-event reports conducted by city staff after each F1 race, which are required as part of the application process for funds from the state’s Event Trust Funds Program.

Fuentes also asked for a detailed list of the science, technology, engineering and math education programs COTA has provided to students at Del Valle and Akins high schools, which was one of the early promises made before the facility opened nearly a decade ago.

“I’d certainly like to learn more about the extent of the current youth programs that have gone on, but the reason why it is included is because we still have a significant need in the area for increased youth programs,” she said. Council Member Mackenzie Kelly said her experience trying to navigate traffic to get to November’s Rolling Stones concert at COTA showed there is a need for infrastructure and operational improvements.

“The best thing here is to get everyone together at the table who’s involved in the process and we can move forward with a really good, robust plan for improvement, because the benefit they could bring to our city is so great,” Kelly said. “I want everyone who visits to have a wonderful experience, and not have to ditch their cars on the side of the road and provide additional hazards to people so they can get to the event by walking, instead of sitting in traffic.”

Photo by Steve, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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