Marble Falls city leaders address HITS Triathlon traffic problems

DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR

MARBLE FALLS — Though the last competitor has long since crossed the finish line of the HITS Triathlon held April 27-28 in Marble Falls, city leaders are still wrestling with concerns over the event’s impact on traffic.

“Obviously, we had a great deal of difficulty with the traffic flow,” City Manager Ralph Hendricks said.

The triathlon route took competitors from the starting area and transition zone at Lakeside Park in Marble Falls out of town for the running and cycling routes using the U.S. 281 bridge. To handle the triathlon, officials closed one lane going north and one lane going south to motor-vehicle traffic.

Still, traffic delays followed. The situation wasn’t helped at one point April 27 when two oversized loads hauling manufactured homes attempted to enter Marble Falls on U.S. 281. Officials turned around the two loads, but it took 20 minutes to accomplish the task.

Hendricks said it takes about two-and-a-half hours after something like that to let traffic flow catch up.

“(Traffic) was already slow, but this made it very difficult to recover,” Hendricks said.

Officials anticipated more than a thousand athletes for the event.

This is the second year a stop in the HITS Triathlon series came to Marble Falls. After last year’s event, during which many of the course routes went north on U.S. 281 to Mormon Mill Road and caused problems, city and event officials began exploring new options for this year’s competition.

Hendricks said the city had been planning the event for six months. He admitted officials might have to rethink the course used this year.

“We’re absolutely going to have to look at moving the event. It can not happen in the way that it did this weekend,” Hendricks said. “We moved most of it out of town, but (that) still didn’t fix the traffic problem. We’re going to have to keep moving it farther and farther out of town to make it successful.”

The triathlon likely will remain tied to Lake Marble Falls since it has a swimming component.

Triathlons aren’t new to Marble Falls. The Marble Falls Triathlon, scheduled for July 21, has been a staple for about 12 years. Hendricks said it hasn’t caused any traffic issues.

But, he pointed out, the HITS event and the Marble Falls Triathlon are different in several ways. The HITS race is a two-day event with five distances from the open (shortest) to full that includes a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

The Marble Falls Triathlon starts on a Sunday morning and typically wraps up before noon. This year, the event includes an Olympic distance one-kilometer swim, a 23-mile bike ride and a 4.4-mile run and a shorter sprint distance option.

In the Marble Falls Triathlon, the cycling portion is the only part that goes out of town using U.S. 281 to go south to Texas 71 before returning. The run takes competitors through Johnson Park and a portion of Marble Falls.

“Maybe there’s not enough venue for the (HITS) event,” Hendricks said. “Smaller events seem to do well.”

The influx of athletes does bring an economic benefit. They book hotel and motel rooms, eat at local diners and shop at area stores.

The traffic problems weren’t lost on race officials and city leaders. The city released a letter (see below) signed by Mayor George Russell, Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce President Keith Conrad and HITS Triathlon Series Race Director Mark Wilson acknowledging and apologizing for the problems.

Hendricks said organizers and city officials met April 29 to discuss the problems and possible solutions in regard to the recent triathlon. He said they likely will have several more meetings in the days to follow. Part of the discussion includes polling local businesses to see which benefitted and which didn’t from the HITS Triathlon.

One of the reasons for hosting the event was to bring the athletes and their families to town with the idea they would frequent some of the local businesses, Hendricks said.

“We’re sorry for any inconvenience,” Hendricks said in regard to the traffic problems.

daniel@thepicayune.com

LETTER FROM THE CITY OF MARBLE FALLS

To the Citizens of Marble Falls and Surrounding Communities:

We would like to extend our sincerest apology to each citizen and visitor who was inconvenienced as a result of the HITS Triathlon event held in Marble Falls this past weekend.

In spite of the extensive planning by City Staff, traffic consultants, the event planners, and representatives from the surrounding counties, we were unable to foresee complications to the extent endured this past weekend.

Keeping in mind the issues that arose during this event the previous year, we conducted several months of communications and planning to ensure a successful event for all involved, including residents of Marble Falls and the surrounding communities as well as our visitors.

We have shared your concerns with the event organizers and are emphatic that the obstacles encountered this year must be resolved in order to continue to hold this event in our area.

We would like to extend our thanks to all the event volunteers (and) public safety personnel of Marble Falls, Burnet, Llano and Blanco counties for their support and tireless efforts during the situation.

Once again, we extend our earnest apology to our citizens and visitors affected by the events of this past weekend.

George Russell
Mayor, City of Marble Falls

Keith Conrad
President, Marble Falls/Lake LBJ Chamber of Commerce

Mark Wilson
Race Director, HITS Triathlon Series

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