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Trans Texas Corridor depends on toll roads, rail

Tuesday, January 29, 2002 by

Governor Rick Perry yesterday unveiled the Trans Texas Corridor Plan, with toll roads, traditional highways and high speed rail lines for both freight and passenger trains, as well as space for public utilities, pipelines and fiber-optic cable.

The governor assured listeners that even though the plan is projected to cost $175 billion, various funding mechanisms would allow the plan to be implemented without new taxes. Perry, who is running for re-election, said the plan would reduce congestion and air pollution and “lead to better stewardship of our natural resources.”

The prospect of such a plan clearly elated Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies, manager of Williamson County’s road bond projects. Because Central Texas is in the middle of the map—about halfway between Laredo and Dallas, we should expect action in our area sooner rather than later. As Weaver explained it, “ SH 130 is not going to be slowed down and is going to move forward as quickly as possible.” The area has been struggling with the ever-rising costs of the alternative to I-35.

Weaver said, under the governor’s plan, “Central Texas is going to come out much better than we have in the past,” even though that plan is for long-term. “On all these super corridors, the state is going to take the lead in acquiring all the right-of-way. And that’s a huge benefit for us in Central Texas, where we’ve been looking at bond packages from Williamson County, Travis County and Austin and trying to figure out how to buy the right-of-way for Texas 130. So I think the state taking the lead, along with the idea of regional mobility authorities and the Texas Mobility Fund. . . will mean over time, Central Texas is going to come out much better than where we are today.” The plan involves high-speed freight rail lines too as an alternative to the trucks everyone has come to dread on I-35. Combine that with space for utilities and separation between each of the different types of right-of-way and the corridor grows from roughly 500 feet to 1000 to 1200 feet wide.

“When you look at the issue of moving goods across the Texas border and across the state, freight rail is going to be a critical component for the long term economic good of the state,” Weaver said. He noted that a recent study said an efficient rail system between Laredo and Dallas could take one-half the trucks off of I-35. “That’s a big deal. It’s a safety issue and an economic development issue . . . Goods would be pre-cleared in Mexico City or Monterrey . . . they would be able to cross the border and not have to stop until they got to Austin or Dallas or Kansas City. Having a freight corridor, like you see in the Northeast and the West is going to be a huge economic benefit to the state of Texas. For Central Texas in particular . . . (it) will ultimately be good for the economy.” It could be a great boon to companies like Dell, he said.

The governor’s plan would complement local plans for light rail, Weaver said. “If you look at other states that have good inter-city rail service, they only work if you have good rail service within the city.” Dallas- Fort Worth has a rail corridor. Having a statewide rail plan only gets you to a point and then you’ve got to be able to distribute those people within the city. I think it will be helpful. It gives another reason to want to do light rail in Central Texas.”

Council could appoint interim manager Thursday

Mayor Gus Garcia and out-going City Manager Jesus Garza on Monday laid out the transition plan for the city manager’s office as Garza prepares to leave the position at the end of April. According to Garcia, the Council this week will likely select a current or former city employee to serve as “Acting” City Manager effective May 1st.Garza had previously set up a transition plan for the office, and other city department heads have done the same for their areas. Under Garza’s plan, the Deputy City Manager would take over the manager’s duties. “I created the office of deputy for that purpose,” Garza said. “That may be something the Council avails themselves of on Thursday; they may want to do something different.” Two Council members have publicly expressed support for current Deputy City Manger Toby Futrell.

With those plans in place, Garcia said the Council could concentrate on the candidate selection process. The big question this week, Garcia said, would be “who is going to be the person who assumes the position.” That will likely be a current city employee, although Garcia did not rule out selecting a former city department head or former assistant city manger. He pointed out that the measure up for consideration this week would not include a salary adjustment. “It does not have a fiscal note,” Garcia said. “That was not an omission. That was by design. If the Council wants to look at the compensation package we can do that between now and May 1st.”

Selecting a current city employee would allow that person, under direction from Garza, to begin overseeing some routine matters while Garza focuses his attention on larger projects. Those include transportation issues such as SH 130 and SH 45, the expansion of the Austin Convention Center, and contract negotiations with Seton regarding Brackenridge Hospital (scheduled for a vote this Thursday).

One additional benefit of naming an Acting City Manager now, Garcia said, is to give that person time to begin planning for next year’s budget. “We’re starting the budget process for fiscal ‘03, which is going to be a very tight budget. I think somebody who is going to assume the responsibility of city manager needs to be on board, at least as a designee.”

Garza predicted a smooth transition, and offered some advice to his eventual successor on handling the job. “The first thing is, you have to listen. There’s a lot of people that are going to be telling you what you ought to be doing,” Garza said. “Then, I think it’s patience. It takes the patience of Job to work through this organization in terms of the various complex organizational structures we have in place and the political system in terms of how we arrive at decisions. Finally, you need to have resolve and courage.”

Garza recently marked his eighth anniversary as City Manager. He’s leaving for a position at the LCRA. His last day with the city will be April 30.

Old West Austin loses bid For historic grant money

Old West Austin has suffered a small setback in its quest for designation as a National Register Historic District, Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin told the Historic Landmark Commission last night.

The neighborhood failed to secure a Certified Local Government grant this fall from the Texas Historical Commission—federal funds set aside to assist communities that want to preserve history. Stocklin said Old West Austin sought about $13,000 in grant money to pay a consultant to finish the catalog of 1,500 structures in the neighborhood.

That amount was just a little too high for the Texas Historical Commission to support, Stocklin said. She met with the commission to answer questions about the grant application and said that many of the questions about the grant application were answered. The agency urged Old West Austin to resubmit its grant application in the spring.

Stocklin told the commissioners that Old West Austin had raised a significant amount of money on its own to underwrite the inventory of local structures. The grant would simply help the neighborhood complete the project. CLG grants are usually smaller grants intended to bring in a consultant to fund some of the smaller preservation studies in a community.

Blame game . . . Why would rumors be circulating about Commissioner Pct. 2 candidate Jeff Heckler getting a misdemeanor assault charge expunged? After all, the brawl in question happened in January ‘95. Heckler says he was trying to break up the fight and his lawyer, David N. Smith, says the case ended in an outright dismissal the following year. An expunction hearing is set for Thursday. Obviously, no one would care if Heckler weren’t running against fellow Democrat and current incumbent Commissioner Karen Sonleitner. Mike Blizzard, Heckler’s campaign consultant, termed Sonleitner’s comments about Heckler to fellow Democrats at last week’s forum, “the most incendiary speech I’ve heard since Eric Mitchell pulled the sheet off Austin.” Blizzard says his candidate wants to focus on the issues, such as the ill-fated extension of Frate Barker Road and the poorly constructed Criminal Justice Center . . . There but for fortune . . . City staffers could find themselves caught between conflicting commissions tonight as the Planning Commission and the Zoning and Platting Commission hold a joint work session. The first item on the agenda is an explanation of assignment of cases by George Adams and Ricardo Soliz.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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