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UO says upgrade won’t clog roads

EUGENE — The streets around the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field are capable of handling track-and-field traffic even after an expansion — set to start in August — that will increase the stadium’s fixed seating capacity by 15 percent, to 12,086 seats, the UO maintains.

That’s because Hayward Field is only a little more than half full for regular UO track meets, and that won’t change much even with the expansion, the UO says in recently submitted traffic engineering documents to the Eugene planning department.

As a result, the UO should not be required by the city to make any expensive street fixes around Hayward as part of the stadium expansion, the UO says.

Even though the UO expansion plans call for adding 1,586 fixed seats in an all-new west grandstand that will extend around the south end of the track, any increase in attendees that the expansion generates should be within tolerances for the streets and intersections to handle, the documents say.

Hayward Field — based on a five-year average — operates at less than 60 percent seating capacity for its regular track meets, according to a Sandow Engineering traffic analysis submitted to the planning department.

“Currently, UO Track & Field meets do not operate at capacity and the expansion of the facility is expected to only marginally increase attendance at these regularly occurring events,” an engineer wrote.

The attendees for the rare large events that will be held at the expanded stadium — for example, the 2021 World Championships — can be handled with customized shuttles for the duration of the events, the UO said.

The UO needs planning approval from the city, and as a routine part of its review the city evaluates whether a new facility will draw increased traffic that warrants costly upgrades such as new turn lanes, traffic lights or other traffic-control elements.

For regular UO track meets, the five-year average attendance is 6,146 on a weekday and 6,259 on a weekend — leaving plenty of room in the current 10,500-seat stadium and in surrounding streets, the UO’s submittal says.

Those are accurate attendance figures for regular meets, said Vin Lananna, former UO track coach, who is now a UO athletic department executive and also president of the Eugene-based non-profit TrackTown USA. But still, Hayward Field draws a lot of spectators by the standards of a regular college track meet, Lananna said.

Other schools “would be so excited to have what we have,” he said. Lananna was track coach at Stanford University for a decade earlier in his career. At Stanford, he said, “our regular season, if we had 2,500 people, that was a great crowd,” he said.

The university wants the added seating for occasional, big-ticket events, such as the 2016 U.S Olympic Track & Field Trials and the 2021 IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships — which draw 20,000 or 30,000 spectators.

The remodeled stands are designed to be augmented with temporary stands that would more than double the stadium’s capacity.

For those big meets, the UO says it will use shuttles to bring fans to campus and use other measures to reduce the potential for gridlock around Hayward.

For other high profile Hayward Field meets, such as the Prefontaine Classic and the NCAA Outdoor Championships, the attendance more narrowly exceeds the fixed seating capacity and the UO says it can easily handle that with smaller sets of temporary bleachers — and without triggering the need for road improvements.

For a decade, Lananna has urged Eugene fans to “fill the stands” for all Hayward Field events.

“We’d like to be at 9,500 to 10,000 people (at regular meets) — and that’s what we’ll continue to strive for, but we have to create the trend for that to happen,” he said.

Lananna’s objective — spelled out in his UO job description — is to boost track’s visibility, make it a marquee sport and crank up fan demand.

To achieve this, Lananna needs full grandstands to attract television coverage, he has told The Register-Guard.

Still, Lananna faces a tough sell with track and field, which doesn’t have near the draw in the United States as football or basketball.

At the IAAF World Indoor Track & Field Championships in Portland earlier in March — a premium worldwide track and field event for the year — Lananna filled the 7,000-seat stadium custom-built inside the Oregon Convention Center for three of the six sessions that ran during the four-day event.