Tuesday, October 17, 2000 by

CAMPO reviewers say region

Must change funding strategy

Threat to air quality must be addressed also

By Doug McLeod

“It’s time to stop fighting and start funding,” according to the project manager of a much-anticipated evaluation of CAMPO’ s long-range transportation plan. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is on the right track, but needs to make some changes, according to Cambridge Systematics, Inc. (CS), of Cambridge, Mass., which did the peer review study.

In presenting a draft of the study to CAMPO steering committee members Monday, project manager Bill Schwartz suggested that a variety of issues need attention if the CAMPO 2025 plan is to provide strong leadership in regional planning over the next 25 years. He stressed that a shift in CAMPO’s funding strategies is critical to success.

Although the CAMPO 2025 plan is not a comprehensive regional plan, “it certainly lays the groundwork for long-term needs,” Schwartz said..

The report states: “While the plan lays out the transportation network that would serve the Austin region’s needs in 2025, there is not evidence of an aggressive strategy to deliver the projects that are needed most urgently right now… Many of the plan components are needed now, not 10 or 20 years from now. Not getting these improvements could have a dramatic effect on the continued economic vitality of the region. A more pro-active strategy for implementing projects in the short term is needed. Funding is one of the biggest obstacles to getting needed projects right now. ”

Along with a change in funding strategies, Schwartz recommended numerous modifications to the plan:

• Reevaluate the population forecast—it’s too high. • Rethink the employment forecast for downtown—it’s too low. • Technical support and guidance should be strengthened. • The travel demand forecasting process needs to be consolidated into one entity. CAMPO and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) currently share duties. • Air quality is a looming threat and must be addressed. • CAMPO needs to build stronger partnerships with TxDOT and citizens—with more public involvement. • CAMPO’s mission needs to expand to provide regional leadership, implementation strategy, land use and transportation planning.

The subject of funding came up repeatedly during the presentation. Schwartz and Steve Pickrell, a CS vice president, stressed the need for creative funding solutions. If certain projects were not implemented soon, it could really hurt Austin in the long run, they said. The money is there, but regional officials need to be more creative and proactive with financing projects, Schwartz said. At one point, Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, CAMPO Policy Action Committee chair, asked Schwartz to suggest how to get more funding. He asked if CS had looked at the big picture, noting that cities all over Texas want a piece of the funding pie, but that state and federal resources are limited

Schwartz said one way would be to make projects look better when presented to TxDOT. Put more time and effort into proposals and demonstrate how much greater the benefits will be, he said.

The peer review showed that other cities around the country are having success with creative funding techniques. CAMPO needs to do more networking and build new relationships to get more funding. Schwartz emphasized that this was a “very, very, very important message.” He reaffirmed that CAMPO is on track and is certainly the right organization to facilitate the process.

Pickrell suggested that new taxes could also be an option. He pointed to California’s new sales tax earmarked for transportation. The new tax solved some serious transportation funding problems in that state, he said. A small increase in the county tax rate could make the pie bigger.

Stop fighting over the funding, he stressed, and focus on finding new sources and new strategies.

“In an expanded leadership role, CAMPO should develop a proactive funding strategy,” which would make it possible to get a bigger share of federal and state funding, and to “pursue innovative finance tools,” Pickrell said. Getting more federal and state money is a priority, he said, but other finance tools include infrastructure banking, federal credit enhancement and revenue bonds.

Urban Trans group says

Get tough with telecoms

Make them fix the streets, commissioners say

Austin’s telecommunications companies have declared open season on downtown streets, and what they leave behind isn’t sitting well with the Urban Transportation Commission.

Ed Delabarre of the city’s Financial Services Department provided commissioners last night with an update on the road cuts being made by local telecommunications companies. Under House Bill 1777, the city is required to provide right-of-way access to all companies laying fiber and cable for telecommunication purposes. But Delabarre said he had no figures on how much of Austin’s downtown construction could be attributed to the construction of telecommunications companies. So far, 32 telecommunication companies have been authorized to offer phone service in Austin, he said.

Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy has put downtown street construction under the spotlight with a non-stop barrage of e-mail to local media on the issue. Last night, commissioners were more concerned with the bumpy and patched mess these telecommunications companies had left behind. Cutting into the street, city staffers told the commissioners, cuts the life of a roadway in half.

“The city does not have to roll over and play dead,” vice chair Michelle Brinkman told her colleagues. “The city does not have to allow traffic in the downtown area to be disrupted.”

The city does have to offer access to telecommunications companies, Brinkman said, but that doesn’t mean the city can’t ask that some standard of care be taken when they resurface the roads. Commissioner Scheleen Johnson, who also sits on the Downtown Commission, agreed. Commissioners reiterated that patching of roadways has not been sufficient.

“I think we should continue to pursue this issue,” Johnson said. “I don’t think the problem is the law. I think a whole bunch of things should be required of these companies, like resurfacing.”

Just what the city could require—or whether the city could require reconstruction at all—was unclear from the discussion at the meeting. Delabarre said the problem of construction downtown had been exacerbated by the fact telecommunication companies refuse to share the same trench. That means a street can be torn up, patched and then torn up again almost immediately.

“We’ve begged them to do joint trenching, but they’ve refused to do it for competitive reasons,” said Delabarre, adding that telecommunication companies cannot be forced to share construction. “ They’re very jealous of each other Delabarre said some companies are trying trenchless technology, such as directional boring, with mixed results. One recent boring led to phone service problems because it hit other service lines. Maps are often incomplete—a problem in many cities—that companies end up cutting each other’s fiber, copper or even utility lines, Delabarre said. Asked by one commissioner why the city did not create its own GIS directory of fiber and copper lines, Delabarre said even the utility companies themselves are uncertain what may or may not belong to them.

Johnson asked that the commission take the topic under advisement, possibly drafting some recommendations to bring before the City Council.

Other transportation news

A couple of neighborhood representatives had to leave last night’s Urban Transportation Commission meeting disappointed. The commission won’t take up the issue of the CAMPO 2025 plan until the panel's work session of Nov. 6.

A work session of Capital Metro’s operations committee will take up the issue of airport shuttle service on Wednesday afternoon. Capital Metro staffers admit justifying increased frequency on the cross-town route will be difficult, given the high projected cost per passenger.

If you think it’s tough being a taxi driver in downtown Austin construction, imagine how tough it is to be a pedicab. Jason Norwood of Austin Bicycle Cab told the Urban Transportation Commission that his business is tough because the city has prevented his bicycle-drawn cabs from operating on Sixth Street, sending his business into downtown alleys and sidestreets. Road closures aren’t helping Norwood, either.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Fundraiser for Barrientos . . . Friends of Senator Gonzalo Barrientos will honor him to tonight from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel Ballroom. Tickets for the event are $50 and up. . . Asian connections . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman took off for Nanjing, China yesterday for the World Technopolis Association Conference, where she will address the group and make contacts for next year’s U.S.-Asian Technology Exposition. From Nanjing, Goodman will travel to Tianjin, to meet more technology folks on behalf of the city. The exposition is billed as “the first IT (information technology) event designed to bring US and Asian tech companies together to explore joint venture, investment and strategic alliances. The event is scheduled for May 14-16, 2001 at the Austin Convention Center. For more information, check the web site, www.us-asianexpo.com . . . More water . . . City officials happily announced the end of a two-year project expanding the Ullrich Water Treatment plant on Monday. The expansion means an increase of treatment capacity from 77 million to 100 million gallons per day from Ullrich. Chris Lippe, the utility’s acting director, said the city has run extensive tests over the past two weeks to make sure the new main is delivering high quality water. Improvements to Red Bud Isle at Town Lake are scheduled for completion next spring..

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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