Austin officials stress need for preparedness after London F1 trip

"One cannot be overprepared" was one lesson City of Austin officials learned following their trip to England to observe Formula One's British Grand Prix at Silverstone racetrack earlier this month, said Rodney Gonzales, deputy director of economic growth and redevelopment services.

Local safety, transportation and local government officials held a news conference July 13 to offer updates on how regional authorities are preparing for hosting the U.S. Grand Prix this November at the Circuit of The Americas racetrack.

"While this race is new to all of us, we can all draw from our collective experiences hosting events such as The University of Texas football games, South by Southwest [Music and Media Conference] and [Austin City Limits]," Gonzales said. "We wanted to offer an update that work is proceeding effectively and on schedule."

Comparisons to Silverstone

Gonzales said record rainfall was experienced during the British Grand Prix and there were weather-related issues at campsites on the property.

"Access is limited to Silverstone," Gonzales said. "There are seven lanes into the track, and shuttle buses also travel those routes. We have planned a total of 10 lanes to reach [COTA], and buses enter through a separate roadway. They will not be sharing the road like at Silverstone."

Approximately 500 buses will be circulating on a 40-minute loop between downtown park-and-rides and COTA. Private vehicles, taxis, chartered buses and limousines will not be allowed to move throughout COTA, which will cut down on traffic on-site, officials said.

Gonzales said Silverstone broadcast traffic updates on the radio to keep visitors informed.

Getting around

Officials plan to minimize the disruption to Austinites who are not attending the event by keeping the public informed and by managing expectations.

"This is no different than during South by Southwest. If you work in the downtown business district, you know what the impact will be and adjust to deal with it. You may not go to that restaurant downtown on a Friday night because you know a lot of people will be there," said Michael Hemby, planning manager for the Travis County Sheriff's Office.

He added that information about road closures and other information will be available at a new section of the City of Austin's website, www.austintexas.gov/grandprix.

Unlike what is required to coordinate a UT football game, F1 visitors will be traveling between the track and downtown Austin in the evenings throughout the race weekend.

Walking to COTA from the surrounding neighborhood is not allowed—the area has no sidewalks. COTA officials have said that they will turn away people who arrive to the track on foot.

A park-and-ride for bicycles is in the works.

Jim Halbrook, public information officer for Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, said that the airport can process 120 visitors an hour through customs.

He said he did not know how many helicopters will be operating during the race. As for capacity, Halbrook said aviation officials are looking at potential landing and parking sites throughout Austin. He declined to go into further detail about whereabouts or what types of sites were being considered.

The number of chartered planes that will be arriving at ABIA is also unknown; Halbrook said those booking chartered planes have until October to coordinate plans.

Security and law enforcement

Travis County Sheriff's Office Maj. Phyllis Claire said there will be more than 200 police officers from local and regional departments working on-site and handling traffic issues.

"That may seem like a large number, but I think COTA is in agreement that we would rather have more than fewer officers," she said.

COTA will pay for the staffing, and the sheriff's office plans to schedule exempt employees to minimize overtime.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said that while the race will take place in Elroy, hosting the event is a regional issue, affecting downtown Austin to as far away as San Antonio.

"The hotels are sold out. Recently, I ate lunch at a venue where the facility was rented out for the entire week. That's just one facility. A lot of people will be coming into town," he said.

Officials did not see a potential problem with overcoming any language barriers in hosting visitors from throughout the world. Acevedo said that most visitors will likely know enough English to be able to get around.



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