Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Changes target racetrack safety

$500,000 in improvements slated for county raceway

Spokane County Raceway Park is to get nearly $500,000 worth of government-financed improvements this year – not including plans to move a half-mile of racetrack.

County officials want to re-route the track to keep vendors and other visitors from driving across it to reach the raceway office. The office is surrounded by the road course.

“There have been some rather close calls there,” parks director Doug Chase told county commissioners recently.

Currently, flaggers have to direct office traffic across the course during events.

Chase said almost all of the approved and proposed work is for safety reasons. The realignment was recommended by county risk manager Steve Bartel, who was not available for comment.

Chase said Bartel also suggested spending an unbudgeted $60,000 to widen sections of the road course and add rumble strips in some areas.

Commissioners called for more information before they consider the unbudgeted items.

Most of the 22 improvements already under way concern safety issues in spectator portions of the raceway.

Some are as simple as putting red or yellow paint on stair steps or installing stairway handrails. But plans also call for new cable-reinforced debris fences along the drag strip and additional crowd-control fencing for the oval track.

Chase said the projects are expected to cost $450,000 to $500,000.

“We’re hoping to complete them as soon as we can,” he said.

Ultimately, county officials hope to repay the cost with track revenue, but taxpayers are footing the bill at present.

County Chief Executive Officer Marshall Farnell said a “bridge loan” from the county treasurer’s office will be used until midyear, when a number of capital projects – including a new sewage treatment plant – are to be lumped into a bond measure.

The bonds would be repaid from regular county revenue and wouldn’t require voter approval.

The cost of realigning the road course hasn’t been estimated, but the prospect is daunting.

Portland International Raceway paid about $1 million a mile when it repaved two miles of its 40- to 60-foot-wide road course a couple of years ago. Manager Mark Wigginton said that included rebuilding about half of the gravel roadbed.

Spokane County Raceway Park’s track is 30 feet wide.

Depending on whether residential or arterial street standards are used, the cost of a half-mile of 30-foot-wide roadway could range from $158,400 to $396,000.

An estimator for a Spokane paving firm said those figures don’t include excavation, which could add significantly and unpredictably to the cost.

Moving part of the road course would shave about three-tenths of a mile off its 2 1/2-mile length, but would solve two safety problems.

Besides separating delivery vans from race cars, the realignment would remove the raceway’s three-quarter-mile concrete drag strip from the asphalt road course.

That would prevent what racers say is a serious traction problem when they switch from one surface to the other, Chase said.

Separating the tracks and making the office more accessible could boost the number of events at the raceway, Chase said.

He said it’s not practical to move the office instead of the road course because the building includes the drag strip timing tower. Also, Chase said, the office received a $350,000 renovation last year.

County officials are seeking a new operator for the track because the previous operator, Austin Motorsports Management, ordered too many improvements last year and left the county holding the bag.

Six local contractors sued the county in December for $1.1 million in unpaid bills. Commissioners canceled Austin’s 25-year, renewable lease before it was a year old.

A “request for qualifications,” issued Dec. 16, seeks an experienced racetrack operator who would be governed by a tighter contract.

An extended deadline gives prospective operators until Feb. 8 to apply for a five-year contract that could be renewed for five more years.

Chase said a “significant” factor in the selection will be the amount of rent the applicants offer to pay. But experience, financial stability and other qualifications also will weigh heavily.

Applicants must submit evidence of their financial strength, and the contract recipient will have to post a bond or similar guarantee that rent and taxes will be paid.

The new operator also won’t be allowed to make any improvements without county approval, even if the operator pays the cost. All improvements must be handled as county-supervised public works projects.

Regardless of who’s paying the bill, no work can be done until guaranteed financing is in place.

“That is a very distinct change in the agreement versus the prior agreement,” Chase said.

He said he has heard from interested parties that five or six prospective operators may apply.

“There has been some very positive interest in this process, so we’re very optimistic,” Chase said.