For the last 10 years, Circuit of the Americas in Austin has drawn thousands of people to major events — from races like the U.S. Grand Prix and MotoGP to concerts by megastars like Elton John and Kendrick Lamar — helping to pump millions of tourist dollars into the local economy while thrilling fans with A-list entertainment.
The 1,500-acre venue has also spent the last decade infuriating many of those same fans when they become ensnarled in the periodic traffic jams that happen when thousands of vehicles are crammed down country roads in rural Travis County.
The traffic debacle around a Rolling Stones concert last year caused such an uproar, it sparked a new urgency about addressing transportation problems and disability access issues at COTA. While there have been notable infrastructure improvements in recent weeks, some of the biggest changes to the surrounding transportation infrastructure could still be years away.
‘Start Me Up’
By most accounts, the Rolling Stones put on an amazing, well-produced show — if you could get in. Some concertgoers told KUT the traffic was so bad they couldn’t access the venue.
When the show ended, the problems continued.
“We reached this one parking lot and we just stayed there for like an hour and a half. Not moving at all,” said Andrea Cardenas, a St. Edward’s University student who attended the show with her dad last November.
“We were seeing people sitting against the gate just sleeping or kind of giving up, because people were really not able to get [Uber or Lyft] rides,” she said. “I don’t know if I would want to go again if the traffic situation would be like that.”
Her experience was far from isolated.
In their only public statement about the fiasco, COTA officials accepted no blame and offered no apology to Rolling Stones fans. Instead, COTA’s statement blamed worker shortages by outside staffing companies and the Waze app for “turning heavy traffic into a mess.”
COTA’s defensive response infuriated fans even more. The anger was so visceral it reverberated inside Austin’s City Hall.
Weeks after the concert, the City Council used its leverage over COTA to require quarterly meetings with local officials on the status of infrastructure upgrades around the venue. COTA has to get city approval to apply for subsidies from the state’s event trust funds program. The council attached a list of requirements to that permission slip.