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Mopac Committee may change

Thursday, October 4, 2001 by

TxDOT's plans, says Barrientos

Consultant suggests adding another agency

CAMPO committee members agreed yesterday that it would take a lot more than a two-hour meeting to come to consensus on additional alternatives for Mopac.

A seven-member technical team, hired by CAMPO, spent a week reviewing the Texas Department of Transportation’s four options on Mopac, with an eye on alternatives or modifications to TxDOT’s assessment. The team’s recommendation was to extend the first phase of the planning process another six months to flesh out more options, most notably the inclusion of commuter rail down Mopac’s spine.

“It wasn’t just that we thought that Phase 1 needed to be extended. We did not think that Phase 1 was complete,” transportation consultant Tom Jones told the committee. “Even within the week that we had, we were able to come up with several additional alternatives.”

Just how far the technical team’s recommendations were from TxDOT’s four alternatives was up for debate. Questioned by chair Gonzalo Barrientos, William Garbade of TxDOT’s Austin office argued that the agency had touched on all material presented by the technical team. None of the recommendations made by the team were new to TxDOT. The agency would need far less than six months to add commuter rail to the mix, Garbade said.

As it was, the transportation agency had probably gone too far in alarming the community, Garbade said. Most of the impact described in Phase 1 was more appropriate to Phase 2, when the environmental impact of the best alternatives would be assessed.

“We put a lot of detail into Phase 1 we shouldn’t have,” Garbade told the commissioners. “The only reason we did was because questions were consistently being raised, so we jumped out there and got into detail which probably added to some of the hype about this project that we probably shouldn’t have gotten into.”

Jones, on the other hand, told the committee in his closing remarks that TxDOT did what it knew best—roads—but it was time to find a co-sponsor that could handle alternatives such as commuter rail. If Capital Metro was not ready to take the lead, then CAMPO needed to find an entity that could explore the commuter rail aspect of the project. TxDOT talked like there were only a few feet of difference between their alternatives and the alternatives being proposed by the technical team.

“We felt it was a million miles of difference,” Jones told the committee.

Jones made his strongest case on commuter rail, saying that his experience was that Union Pacific rarely gave up right-of-way easily. And money was not normally an enticement. Instead, railroads prefer to give away right-of-way in exchange for capital improvements, such as an alternative route or connector for freight in exchange for a commuter rail line.

In the end, Barrientos appeared to lean toward adding new options.

“It’s important work that we’re doing here,” Barrientos told his colleagues. “A lot of work has been done before. I commend TxDOT, but things change when we need changes. We have to be ready to flex to do things.”

In its recommendations, the technical team suggested minimizing the impact of the road expansion on adjoining residences and businesses. The team also recommended drawing up a comprehensive east-west traffic plan, adding high-occupancy vehicle lanes only if express buses were included, and creating a commuter rail line from Georgetown to Seaholm using self-propelled diesel rail cars.

Discussion among commissioners was neither long nor especially heated. One commissioner had problems with the off-ramps suggested for buses. Another talked about the need to exclude elevated lanes past residential areas. A third suggested that the language be clarified on how long State Highway 45 construction should be delayed.

In the end, Barrientos suggested a meeting date—yet to be announced—when commissioners would debate the pros and cons for the plans for at least a full day. Barrientos suggested the commissioners think of it like the old Mack Brown adage: Come early; stay late. The senator failed to add the third truism from Brown: Be loud.

Environmental Board has easy

Decision on joint-use driveway

Plan greatly reduces amount of impervious cover

With only brief discussion, the Environmental Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve recommendation of variances allowing construction of a driveway connecting Loop 360 to a 16-year old PUD approved for a church and single-family housing. Board Member Debra Williams was absent.

The Watershed Protection and Development Review Department has recommended the variance requests with the condition of a restrictive covenant requiring water quality controls for the joint-use driveway. The Environmental Board included in its recommendation the staff condition for water quality controls.

Bruce Aupperle, the project engineer, said his firm had already included a water quality pond in the plan. When vice-chair Tim Jones asked where it would be located, Lee Lawson, with WPDR, said, “We haven’t gotten there yet.”

Aupperle explained that he fully intended to include the pond. “We can’t get through the platting process until we get the variance approved,” he said.

The actual variances requested by the engineering firm, Aupperle Company, are to exceed the four-foot cut and fill to a maximum of six feel of fill, and to construct a 400-square-foot portion of a joint-use driveway on a slope that exceeds a grade of 35 percent.

Glenn Weichert, an attorney representing St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, said a variance on the four-foot cut limit was not actually necessary to build the driveway. “We’re not requesting a cut variance,” he said, noting that the wording was confusing. “At no point does he have to cut more than four feet to build the roadway,” he said. But the fill may need to go up to six feet, he added.

“The first use is for the church,” Aupperle said, and next to access possible future development of an office building and four single-family homes.

“We’re in the process of preparing a site plan for the church,” he said. The undulating design of the St. Stephens Episcopal School driveway, he said, incorporates a required 25-foot setback from buildings and parking lots while working around the existing trees. “We were trying to save the biggest trees; I believe we saved everything bigger than 10 inches,” he said.

The development site consists of approximately 23 acres, 18 of which are platted. It’s located on the west side of the Capitol of Texas Highway (Loop 360), almost three miles south of the Loop 360 Bridge.

On July 19, 2001 the City Council approved a revision to the PUD which involved removing Santa Anita Cove, a public street, and replacing it with a joint-use driveway.

The PUD was originally approved in 1984. The planned joint-use driveway will actually reduce the overall impervious cover because it replaces Santa Anita Cove, which is to be removed once the driveway is built. The pavement width of Santa Anita Cove is 41 feet whereas the proposed width of the driveway is 27 to 37 feet. This translates to a reduction in impervious cover from 1730 square feet to 400 square feet.

ZAP odds and ends

Preliminary plan for Doggett property approved

The Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday night approved on consent preliminary plans for the Clayton’s Crossing subdivision on Spicewood Springs Road. The property will include six large lots that would be accessed from Spicewood Springs and fifteen smaller lots to be accessed from Yaupon Drive. The Planning Commission had already approved the variances required for the tract to be subdivided after extensive review by the Environmental Board. (See In Fact Daily, July 16, 2001.) Congressman Lloyd Doggett and his wife Libby own the 40-acre tract.

The ZAP commission squelched plans for a bar at 1611 Dungan Lane in Northeast Austin by denying a request to change the current industrial zoning to CS-1 with a Conditional Overlay for liquor sales. Owners of nearby businesses in the industrial area voiced complaints, and some members of the commission were concerned about the proposed bar’s effect on pedestrians and nearby traffic. “I’m worried that these guys, after they’ve worked all day, are going to go to this bar and get a little inebriated and perhaps meet me on the road,” said ZAP Chair Betty Baker. The motion to approve the zoning change failed 4-5, with Commissioners Diana Casteñeda, Niyanta Spelman, Michael Casias and Jean Mather voting in favor of the change.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

New blood needed . . . Mayor Kirk Watson has asked CAMPO to consider his replacement on the special committee considering MoPac alternatives. The committee’s deadline is November, after the mayoral election . . . We should talk . . . After Assistant City Attorney John Steiner wrote his analysis of the Clean Campaign’ s proposed new ordinance, City Attorney Sedora Jefferson was prepared to let that opinion stand and planned to brief the City Council on the matter today. Fred Lewis, a spokesman for the Campaign, told In Fact Daily, “I think the work was not competently done and was not objective. They talked to no one who is an expert around the country, nor did they do the type of research so they could do the kind of competent analysis the City Council should expect from their legal staff.” He concluded that the analysis was “a hatchet job.” However, Lewis contacted In Fact Daily late yesterday to say that the briefing would be postponed and that Jefferson had indicated a willingness to work with him on the matter. “I was impressed they were willing to talk with and listen to us,” he said. The city attorney’s office had estimated the cost of the proposal at $4.7 million per year. Lewis estimated the cost at $661,000 for 2005-2007 . . . Bond Committee announced . . . Howard Falkenberg, a spokesman for the newly formed pro-bond committee, said Wednesday that the name of the group is YES! Travis County Bond Committee. Cathy Bonner is the treasurer. The list of committee members reads like a who’s who of city boosters. Members include Neal Kocurek, Bobbie Barker, Mark Hazelwood, Pike Powers, Jerry Winetroub, Charles Akins, John Hernandez, Daron Butler, among many others.

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