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Biscoe letter tells transporation official Travis cannot agree

Friday, November 1, 2002 by

Commissioners from Travis and Williamson Counties were all smiles yesterday as the Texas Transportation Commission approved the formation of the first Regional Mobility Authority in the state. Austin Mayor Gus Garcia was not so pleased, having received a copy of a letter sent by Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe to Michael Behrens, executive director of TxDOT, rejecting most of Austin’s conditions for supporting the RMA. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 26, 2002 .) Specifically, Biscoe says Travis County opposes using the city’s 2025 roadway plan ( AMATP) and suggests that the city may have to pay for any increased costs that result from compliance with the city’s environmental regulations.

Biscoe’s letter, which Garcia received Wednesday, says the CAMPO 2025 plan should be the one the RMA follows, because that plan is “adopted with input from various political subdivisions throughout the region that implement and are affected by them, including the City of Austin.”

Biscoe’s letter states, “We believe it would be inappropriate for the Commission to include these conditions to form the Central Texas RMA,” and the commission did not set any such conditions on formation of the RMA.

In response to Biscoe’s letter, Garcia sent his own letter yesterday, pointing out problems the city has with Biscoe’s perspective. “First, the CAMPO Plan is adopted by a process that does not provide for fair representation by the citizens of Austin. Our urban views, representing over 50% of the population of the region are outvoted by the suburban/rural interests . . . The city’s views about roadways are not given a proportional voice through the regional decision making process.” Garcia stressed the conceptual nature of the CAMPO plan. “It lacks depth with regard to environmental concerns, and does not consider impacts on neighborhoods.”

As for environmental protection, Garcia argues that “the RMA will be funding the road projects and the associated costs for complying with rules to protect the environment should be part of the project funding. The city residents will be paying the tolls for these roads and they have voted to approve strong environmental protections in the city’s jurisdiction.” Biscoe’s letter says it may be appropriate for the city “to bear any increased project costs that result” from compliance with city ordinance requirements.

Colin Clark of the Save Our Springs Alliance told the commission that his organization is concerned about the environmental implications—specifically that the RMA would be used to connect South MoPac to I-35, “drastically increasing traffic” over the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer. He asked the commission to explicitly direct the RMA to conform to municipal transportation plans. Clark said later that SOSA would continue to monitor the situation and voice its concerns.

Garcia pointed out that the RMA cannot do much until the Legislature authorizes it to issues bonds and take land under eminent domain proceedings. He said there is also a question about whether the tollways can be as successful as the North Dallas Expressway, which he said is a “cash cow.” The Mayor said that Senator Gonzalo Barrientos “has said we will have a place at the table.”

Garcia said he has received numerous positive comments from Austinites who are concerned about environmental protection. He added that the city would be speaking to legislators about Austin’s concerns.

On the other side of the equation are officials like State Representative Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, who said, “It will change the way of life for us here in Central Texas. We’ll have miles and miles of roads built a decade before we ever would have even thought about building them. Thanks to the Williamson and Travis County Commissioners Courts, we’re a year ahead of anybody else in the whole state. TxDOT is very pleased to see Central Texas acting so aggressively, and I think we’re going to be rewarded for that.”

Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Margaret Moore, a Democrat, said being the first with an RMA would have its advantages: “We think it will give us an outstanding partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation. We have a couple of very high-priority projects that we will partner with them to build, that should accelerate their completion.” Moore said the first project, US 183A, is in Williamson County but will help drivers in Travis County as well. “The residents of Precinct 3 who live north of Lake Travis all look forward to having this relief for their traffic congestion.”

At this point, Travis and Williamson Counties would each like to choose three members of the seven-member RMA board. The Governor will choose the seventh member. Austin City Council members have said they should have some say in who is on that board because Austin is the largest entity in the region. Travis County Pct. 2 Commissioner Karen Sonleitner said she expects Travis commissioners to make their appointments on November 12.

$200,000 limit set in 1985 eliminated

The Austin City Council approved an amendment to the Art in Public Places Ordinance on Thursday to increase the percentage of city construction funds that can be devoted to public art projects. The changes follow Arts Commission recommendations to buy more public art. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 26, 2002 .)

“The first and last time we talked about the formula for Art in Public Places was 1985,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman. “The purchasing power and expectations have changed vastly. We’ve updated many other things, but never this particular component of the program.”

The ordinance will increase the amount budgeted for art in public works projects from one percent to two percent. In addition, a provision in the ordinance that set a $200,000 cap for any single public art project is being eliminated. “It allows us to have a quality of project that’s commensurate with the quality of life we like to talk about in Austin,” said Goodman. There will be a limit of $300,000 for public art projects associated with a water or wastewater treatment facility. Under the revised ordinance, bridges and street improvements will also have arts budgets.

Goodman said the increased spending limits will result in better art projects for taxpayers and will also reward the city’s hard-working artists. “If we all had to work at 1985 salaries and wages, I think we’d all understand why a little update is good.”

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

Texas turnout predicted at 40 percent . . . Secretary of State Gwyn Shea yesterday predicted that 40 percent of the state’s 12.5 million voters will cast ballots this year. According to the Associated Press, Shea based her prediction on registration and get-out-the-vote efforts as well as early voting patterns and “the highly competitive top races.” As of Wednesday night, more than 14 percent of registered voters in Travis and Williamson Counties had cast ballots, making Central Texas the most politically conscientious area in the state so far. The Early Vote also topped 10 percent in the following counties: Bexar (10.6), Tarrant (10.3), El Paso (10.1), Collin (11), Nueces (10.3), Montgomery (10.8), Galveston (10.1) and Jefferson (11.). Turnout in Dallas County has been about 9 percent so far. Statewide Early Vote turnout was 9.35 percent . . . Guernsey shows off colorful past . . . Greg Guernsey of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department traded his usually unremarkable attire for a hot pink jacket, bright yellow shirt and electric green tie yesterday. Mayor Gus Garcia wanted to know if the zoning expert would be celebrating Halloween on 6th Street after the meeting. Guernsey, who was also sporting multi-colored shoes, indicated that he planned to go trick-or-treating with his children. He added, “These are my own clothes—mostly from the 80s”. . . Strange bedfellows . . . Libertarian gubernatorial nominee Jeff Daiell and Green Party nominee Rahul Mahajan are planning to debate at 7pm tonight at Cullen Auditorium at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Government Professor Elizabeth McLane will serve as the debate moderator. Although Gov. Rick Perry and Democratic candidate Tony Sanchez have been invited to the debate, they “have not yet indicated whether or not they intend to participate,” according to a message from the Libertarian Party . . . Libertarians airing positive message today . . . Selected radio stations around the state will be airing a new 30-second spot today telling voters they don’t have to pick “the lesser of two evils.” Instead, the ads urge voters to choose Libertarian Jeff Daiell for governor . . . City Council appointments . . . The City Council yesterday reappointed William Hale to the Human Rights Commission; Beth Ann Sprengel to the Downtown Commission, and Dazerina McKelvy to the Commission for Women . New appointments included Denise Brady by consensus, Guy Manaster by Mayor Garcia and Ben Ornales by Council Member Alvarez, all to the Library Commission. John Hoffner was appointed by consensus to the Resource Management Commission . . . Welcome home ceremony today . . . The Austin Housing Finance Corporation’s home rehabilitation program will be celebrating the completion of home reconstruction project at 1210 Bob Harrison in East Austin at 10am this morning. AHFC makes loans to low income homeowners for substantial repairs, such as foundation leveling, roofing, plumbing and electrical work. For more information, call Brenda Ham at 974-3175 . . . Non-stop to Motown begins next March . . . Austinites will be able to fly directly from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to Detroit on Northwest Airlines beginning March 1, 2003. Aviation Director Jim Smith said the new service would open “scores of connections to Europe and Asia” for Austinites . . . Catellus deal signed . . . Mayor Gus Garcia and City Manager Toby Futrell were joined by Catellus Development Corp. Vice President Greg Weaver in signing an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement on Thursday. The agreement means the city and Catellus can begin working out details of the master plan for the redevelopment of the old Robert Mueller Airport. “It’s a very big step for the City of Austin,” said Futrell. “This says we have selected our Master Developer, and we’re going to work to make sure the master plan is a success.” Refining the master plan could take 18 to 24 months. “It’s exciting,” said Weaver. “It’s not often you get 700 acres of a clean slate in a progressive, growing city to really create a wonderful plan for the future” . . . Greenbelt work crew needed . . . Trails within the Barton Creek Greenbelt experienced considerable damage during the last spring’s floods. Sponsors of a project to repair the trail are hoping to have 150 volunteers for work on the trail between 9am and 2pm Saturday. Sponsors include REI, Austin Parks and Recreation Department, Central Texas Trail Tamers, Austin Ridge Riders, Wheatsville Food Coop, Upper Crust Bakery, Whole Foods Market, and Clif Bar. Lunch and snacks provided. Call REI at 343-5550 or the SOS Alliance at 477-2320 for more details.

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

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