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CAMPO asks TxDOT for

Tuesday, December 11, 2001 by

Written agreement on MoPac

Garbade stops short of outright threat to pull funding

The CAMPO PAC may have decided just how and where the MoPac/US 183 expansion should happen, but District Engineer Bill Garbade of the Texas Department of Transportation didn’t hesitate to share his thoughts on the subject: Don’t try to tell TxDOT how to do its job.

It wasn’t the first time Garbade has expressed his displeasure at CAMPO appointing a Project Advisory Panel to make recommendations on MoPac. Last night, he stopped one step short of saying the Texas Transportation Commission might pull funding on the project if CAMPO did not back down from its demands on MoPac’s expansion.

The expansion of MoPac is still almost a dozen years from its earliest possible completion date. In April, TxDOT presented what it considered to be the four best options on the roadway’s expansion. The subsequent uproar led to both technical team recommendations and the recommendations of a CAMPO subcommittee. Garbade was less than pleased with the results.

“At the end of the day, no new concepts have been identified to date that we know of,” Garbade told the board at its monthly meeting last night. “Are there any new concepts that we don’t have? That we don’t understand that are out there?”

If CAMPO was so convinced TxDOT has done a poor job of examining the jobs, then maybe it’s time for TxDOT to step away from the project, Garbade told the board during the discussion. Maybe it’s time—as Commissioner Rick Williamson of the Transportation Commission has suggested, said Garbade—for CAMPO to form a regional mobility authority and run its own transportation projects. Garbade went on to threaten that he could easily remove his endorsement from the MoPac project “and move on to more pressing projects.”

“Perhaps the time has arrived to put the ball back into the local’s court from whence it came in 1966, when the City of Austin asked us for assistance in building this project,” said Garbade, who sat on the Project Advisory Panel that recommended the MoPac resolution to the full committee. “It was never my intention to create something so convoluted and so complicated that we have to sit here for an hour to really discuss what’s on the table.”

Privately, board members say it is not the current option Garbade opposes—that is, maintaining a project within current right-of-way with the addition of HOV lanes and with the possibility of commuter rail. Instead, the state agency is chafing at CAMPO’s insistence on a seat at the table as the project moves through the National Environmental Policy Act process. The NEPA evaluation of current options should take almost two years to complete. Some community leaders fear local preferences will be swallowed up during the process.

What CAMPO is asking

According to the adopted resolution, “The CAMPO PAC supports the Texas Department of Transportation proceeding into the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for the Loop 1/US 183 Corridor Improvement Study, upon CAMPO’s approval of TxDOT’s written acceptance as presented to CAMPO of a number of items 1,2,3 and 4 to be completed and conditions to be met prior to CAMPO’s consideration of approval of federal funding.”

Some of the conditions CAMPO wants included are that the project have as little impact on the surrounding community as possible, and that it use highway concepts that are at grade with HOV lanes and possible commuter rail. Other priorities, which were part of the technical team’s recommendations, include the elimination of the Westover Road interchange, the reconfiguration of the 35th Street interchange and the modification of the Windsor Road exit, among others.

Only a handful of speakers addressed the resolution. Resident Steve Beers asked CAMPO to take the worst perceived option for CAMPO—an additional four lanes of traffic and possibility of elevated lanes—and permanently discard it .

“Why have this gun at the head of the neighborhoods,” Beers asked the board. “Why not finally and decisively rule that out?”

Collin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance asked CAMPO to go back to the technical team’s resolution, which he said provided a broader and more inclusive process for input. Chair State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) said the recommendations made by the Project Advisory Panel were the result of evaluating the technical team’s recommendations, along with additional input.

Little of the discussion last night dealt with the specific recommendations of the resolution. Instead, the board debated just how the board could participate in the NEPA process. Under a second resolution approved by the board, CAMPO asked to be a cooperating agency on the MoPac/Loop 1/US 183 project, with an appointed Project Advisory Panel serving as CAMPO’s representative through the entire evaluation and construction process.

The majority of the CAMPO PAC approved the resolution. Those voting against the resolutions included Garbade, Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett, State Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan) and Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright. After the meeting, Burnett said he voted against the resolutions because he thought the additional oversight would slow the project.

Garbade said the Texas Transportation Commission’s rejection of the resolution could stop the project, putting MoPac in a “no-build” mode that could ultimately have “a significant impact upon the community.” State Rep. Glenn Maxey (D-Austin), however, urged his colleagues to approve the resolution, saying the board could revisit its position if the state refused to accept CAMPO’s resolutions. All the representatives of Travis County and the City of Austin, including legislators, voted in favor of the resolutions.

Board grants parking

Variance for rec center

City, neighbors united on need to preserve park

The Cantu Pan American Recreation Center won’t have to add 17 parking spaces as part of its voter-approved expansion project. The Board of Adjustment granted a variance for the recreation center at 2100 East Third Street in East Austin.

The city is adding a second story to the recreation center, which was originally built in 1956 and named after Oswaldo “A.B.” Cantu, a long-time supporter of the Pan-American Boxing Program. Money for the expansion project was approved in the November 1998 city bond election. The existing 27 parking spaces are shared with the adjacent Zavala Elementary at 310 Robert Martinez St.

Recreation center staff members joined the city’s consulting architect on the project and neighborhood residents in support of the variance, which they said was needed to avoid converting parkland into parking spaces. “People from the community walk to the site, it’s not a destination point as other recreation centers are,” architect Ponciano Morales told board members. Recreation center Supervisor Art Ramirez confirmed that most of the center’s visitors arrive on foot. “The center sits in between two major housing projects,” he said.

“Most of our kids that come to the center walk from Chalmers Courts . . . or from Zavala Elementary. The need is for more space . . . for programs for these children as they come to our center.”

Board members asked about the possibility of having the recreation center arrange for parking along adjacent streets, but Morales said that option had been considered and rejected. “The community didn’t want it because it created hazards for kids coming out of the park,” he said.

After more questions about other parking options, the board granted the variance. The vote was 4-1, with board member Leroy Vaughn opposed.

Repairs continue on Ullrich

Line; City won't pay final bill

Project manager confident repairs will be on time

The city will not pay the $5.5 million tab to repair the Ullrich water pipeline, even as a new city contractor moves to repair the major water line for use by next May, according to project manager Jay Ulary.

Last spring, the city realized that the $13.5 million project—intended to augment the heavy demand from North Austin in the summer months—was leaking. (See In Fact Daily March 19, 2001, May 30, 2001.) The pipe was intended to provide additional water capacity to North, Northwest and Northeast Austin. At the time, the city approved an emergency $1.5 million to reroute the water to other arteries in the city’s water system. About a month ago, City Council approved another $4 million to repair almost 500 defective joints.

Ulary told In Fact Daily that work on the pipe is underway. Repairing the joints in the 72-inch pipe is a time-consuming task. Crews must chip through the concrete, clean out the metal joints, weld the repairs and then regrout the pipe, Ulary said. On top of that, the contractor, Triple H Contracting, must take special care because of the fumes and other problems that come from working in an enclosed area, Ulary said.

After a month of work, 19 joints have been repaired, Ulary said. The project manager is confident the pipe will be fully repaired by May, in time for summer demand. An investigation by the city indicated that a welding issue in the joints caused the problems with the pipe, not contractor error, Ulary said. Hanson Concrete Pipe Products of Grand Prairie manufactured the pipe. Hanson’s parent company is located in England.

The city has yet to file any claim against Hanson, Ulary said. The city is still compiling its final testing data, and the pipe manufacturer is doing an investigation of its own on the project. Once those findings are complete, the two sides will meet to decide whether a settlement can be reached, Ulary said. The case may therefore not end up in court.

“Once everything is complete, we’ll all lay our cards on the table and decide, ‘What are we going to do?’” Ulary said. “At this point, however, the position of the city is that we will be made whole. We will not pay for any of this repair. We may front the costs right now, but they need to decide who will pay the money."

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Stratus PUD postponed . . . The City Council will not be hearing Stratus Properties’ request for new zoning for its Bear Lake Planned Unit Development this week. The matter is still on the agenda for tonight’s ZAP Commission for a recommendation, however. The SOS Alliance and certain area neighborhood groups will be asking the commission to postpone consideration, but the commission has already granted the neighborhoods one delay to try to reach agreement with Stratus. It is likely that the Circle C Homeowners Association will come to support the development, which complies with the SOS Ordinance. The Save Barton Creek Association last night approved a resolution applauding Stratus for starting the stakeholder process and supporting continuation of the process. SBCA specifically declined to take a position on the postponement request of the other parties, even though Environmental Board Member Tim Jones urged them to do so. Jones said the board would be placing the item on its Jan. 16 agenda. That board has already failed to make a recommendation for or against the PUD, but the developer is not seeking any variances and thus does not need the board’s recommendation . . . Oops, Sorry! . . Linda Curtis did not run against Council Member Beverly Griffith, as reported yesterday. Curtis was one of the field running against Council Member Will Wynn. It was Linda Dailey, who now serves as Council Member Danny Thomas’ executive assistant, who ran against Griffith . . . No policy here . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watson had a friendly hometown audience at the Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon Monday; so, rather than do his speech on why he would make the best Attorney General for Texas, he stuck to jokes only an Austin audience could appreciate. For example, he said the City Council believed everyone would be happy if Palmer Auditorium and the surrounding area were transformed into a new performing arts center and expanded park. “It looks like it will be on time and we’ve entered into a 50-year lease to transform Palmer, (but) we didn’t make everybody happy. Watson said that might not be the case “if we’d just written into the lease” that the building must be cleaned “with a mixed solution of pot and pee, so it would always remind people of the Armadillo World Headquarters.” We bet he doesn’t get to say that very often on the campaign trail. Also, he probably doesn’t have to explain that it’s been a while since he ran in a race that didn’t include men wearing dresses. They might not understand that in Abilene . . . RECA Distinguished Contribution Awards . . . RECA handed out a dozen awards to its members for their outstanding contributions this year. These include Dan Pollard, Helen Jobes, Karen Roberts, Susan Campbell and John Lewis, all of whom were either chairs or co-chairs of various charitable fundraising events. Howard Falkenberg, Jim Knight, Paul Linehan, Andy Erben, Trey Salinas and Ken Blaker were toasted for hours spent on transportation, subdivision and impervious cover policy issues. Richard Maier, who is retiring from the board this year, won praise for his work with the Austin Neighborhoods Council and Rites of Passage Development, Inc. to develop housing guidelines. Former RECA President Pete Winstead received a commendation of excellence. Finally, the Commissioners Courts of Travis, Hays and Williamson Counties were all commended for passage of road bond packages.

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