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Wider roads to Austin F1 track not needed?
To accommodate an influx of thousands of cars during major events like the Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Elroy, officials originally agreed in May to expand roads in the area, including the creation of a pair of four-lane roads on the north side of the track.

Now officials with the county and circuit are recommending scaling back those expansions, estimated to have cost $9 million to $10 million.

“It’s just not worth the cost,” said Steve Manilla, the county’s transportation executive. “Kellam (Lane), for example, was underutilized. Most of the people came in (for the F1 race) from FM 812 side.”

Race-day traffic around the track was jammed. Traffic on FM 812 was moving so slowly, for example, that to travel about 1 mile from Elroy Road to the track entrance took about 45 minutes shortly after the race ended. The track took more than three hours to clear, longer than what organizers had planned on. The 117,000 people at this year’s race, Manilla said, is the worst-case scenario.

While future events other than the Grand Prix are not expected to draw nearly that many people, organizers will try to get as many cars into the circuit’s 17,000 parking spaces before shuttling people in, said David Greear, the county’s traffic program manager. That means future events, though less attended, could still clog roads in the area.

Completed improvements to roads around the circuit have cost $5.6 million, a bill that will ultimately be paid by the county. They include repaving Elroy Road to the north and east of the circuit and expanding Kellam Lane as the main entrance to the north end of the track.

County and circuit officials had previously agreed to widen those two roads to four lanes, but hadn’t decided who would pay. Now, Manilla said, officials are prioritizing other improvements, including a potential new road east of the track.

“Widening Elroy and widening Kellam were not at the top of things to do,” Manilla said.

Other priorities include a right turn lane from southbound Elroy to FM 812, a particularly clogged area on race day, and widening FM 812 under Texas 130 to allow for more lanes going into and out of the track area.

“Right now, these are just ideas. We don’t have funding. We don’t have money. These (ideas) are just a way to prioritize important projects that we want to pursue,” Greear said.

Bike lanes or a pedestrian-cyclist path might also be in the works if commissioners approve it. On race day, cyclists were not allowed on roads around the track and were shuttled into the area. Manilla said the county would push for costs to be shared among the city, county and circuit.

As they plan for the future of the track, however, there’s no agreement on who should pay more than $200,000 for an expanded water line in the area.

Staffers are recommending that county commissioners not reimburse the circuit the $205,345 it spent to put in a larger water line under Kellam Road. Austin’s water utility had said the existing 6-inch line could not withstand the new road.

“We told the city if you want to upgrade your (water) line, it’s your nickel. Well, the city didn’t feel that way and told COTA you, Mr. Developer, have to pay for it,” Manilla said. “And now, COTA wants us to pay for it.”

The city’s water utility said they favored an even wider water line than what was installed, but Circuit officials did not go through the city’s process to install it, utility spokesman Jason Hill said.

County commissioners will consider these and other changes to their original contract with the Circuit of the Americas in Tuesday’s 9 a.m. meeting at 700 Lavaca Street. The Statesman
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