On June 5, Travis County approved a mass gathering permit for the Circuit of The Americas. The permit allows the new Formula One track to host the United States Grand Prix this November.
State law requires promoters to apply for a mass gathering permit to hold any large-scale event that may attract more than 2,500 people and last longer than five hours. The permit application must address 13 logistic topics, including parking, health, sanitation and traffic.
County Judge Samuel T. Biscoe said the track's permit application was adequate and that it was reasonable to expect that the event would go according to plan.
Travis County Commissioners Court held a three-hour public hearing on the topic during its June 5 meeting. Most of the speakers were concerned about traffic and track noise.
COTA was represented by Brown McCarroll LLP at the meeting. Partner Nikelle Meade said COTA expects to host a maximum of 250,000 visitors during the Nov. 16-18 weekend. The track facility can hold up to 120,000 people at a time.
COTA has contracted with local emergency service districts to provide medical services during the race weekend. The track will also have an on-site medical facility that will act as a miniature hospital, Meade said. It will have an electrocardiogram machine, burn shower, triage area and X-ray room among other amenities.
Regarding sanitation, Meade said there will be 1,000 portable toilets, 60 restroom trailers and 85 hand sanitizer stations.
As previously reported, COTA will use shuttle buses to alleviate traffic to the site. There will be off-site park-and-rides at the Travis County Expo Center and downtown.
Visitors will need permits to access the approximately 17,000 on-site parking spaces. The county plans to improve local roads prior to the race.
Residents who live near the track were concerned about how they would be able to access their homes during the race weekend.
Del Valle resident Donald Bolin said that no neighborhood associations were included among the public organizations to which COTA reached out. He added that he had heard ticket prices were too expensive for the average person.
"This is a playground for the rich, another one of their playgrounds," he said.
Del Valle resident Cathy Olive said there was no guarantee that COTA would hire local workers for either the full-time jobs it will create or the seasonal/event labor.
"This [mass gathering permit application] has holes so big you could drive a truck through them," she said.
She proposed lowering the maximum number of weekend attendees to 150,000 for the first year to ease traffic and improve safety as the track gets established.
Ron Watlinge said change is inevitable and praised the track for all of the tax revenue it will bring to the Del Valle area. He added that county plans to connect Pearce Lane will shave minutes off of emergency response times.
"[Like a child], during the first year of walking, [COTA] will fall and stumble. In year two, it can get around okay. By the third year, they're running, and you can't keep up. COTA has to be given the same chance," he said.
Susan Moffat agreed with Olive's idea of dropping the maximum number of attendees.
"If people spend 11 hours in traffic, they may not want to buy a ticket again next year," she said.
Richard Franklin asked to see traffic and environmental impact studies. "We never talk about what happens if any of this fails," he said. "We assume it is going to work, and we're going to make a lot of money. We have not talked about Melbourne [Australia]. We haven't talked about what happens if we are left holding the bag."
John Mackno said he shares a property border with COTA and was looking forward to the race.
In a statement, Dave Porter, Austin Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development, said the chamber fully supported the county granting a permit to COTA.
Alan Pease said the track noise and traffic were all part of the race experience. He said the event will bring in money for local businesses.