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Top Stories of 2012: F1 in Austin

Circuit of the Americas

Austin’s inaugural Formula 1 race may be remembered less for what it was than what it wasn’t: the traffic-choking, city-closing snarl many residents feared it would be.

Argument over what financial role – if any – the city would play regarding F1 were largely left in the rearview mirror; in 2011, the Austin City Council approved an arrangement with track promoters that let them tap the state’s Major Events Trust Fund, without the city having to pay into the fund first.

Instead, questions over Austin’s F1 readiness dominated headlines in 2012.

Traffic was the biggest question. Elroy residents expressed concern over whether existing roads will be able to handle the race day traffic. And initial plans for the race’s Fan Fest downtown to take over Auditorium Shores got the kibosh, amid concerns gridlock would hamper a Junior League fundraising event at the nearby Palmer Events Center.

Traffic concerns weren’t limited to roads: the city considered building a $5 million temporary customs terminal at the airport before council nixed the idea. And helicopter permits to shuttle race attendees to the track drew council attention as well.

And despite not nearing the fever pitch of 2011, F1 issues did pepper local politics: unsuccessful mayoral challenger Brigid Shea made opposition to F1 subsidies a major part of her campaign, while city officials’ visit to an F1 track in Northampton, England was decried as a junket by some.

As race time neared, some ominous signs appeared: a fun run on the Circuit of the America’s track just weeks before the race was marred by traffic woes, while EPA aerial monitoring for hazardous materials underscored the potential for terrorism at the event.

But when crowds began arriving in November, fears abated: The airport was busy but not overwhelmed, and while lines for the track shuttles were long, transportation to and from the track was generally described as manageable.

So was transportation downtown: with locals avoiding downtown during race weekend, streets were surprisingly clear. That was a mixed bag for bars and restaurants: while many in the Warehouse District next to Austin Fan fest reported strong weekends, other downtown businesses didn’t get the crowds they hoped for.

Oh, and the race itself? By most accounts, amazing.

Following a generally successful 2012, Formula 1 is coming back in 2013. Just when remains a point of contention: at last look, F1’s U.S. date is scheduled on a Longhorn home game weekend, meaning that dreaded traffic standstill could come to pass.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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