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Wynn questions plans for Cesar Chavez

Thursday, November 7, 2002 by

Council members still have plenty of questions about the city’s plans to adjust downtown Austin traffic patterns, despite the presence of a resolution on tonight’s City Council agenda.

The resolution for a series of 15 recommendations is intended to increase pedestrian traffic and the overall vitality of businesses downtown. Chief among the recommendations would be two-way access on four pairs of downtown streets over the next five years— 9th and 10th Streets, Brazos and Colorado Streets, 7th and 8th Streets and Trinity and San Jacinto Streets .

An initial presentation of the proposal—the culmination of a number of studies that included the Downtown Access and Mobility Plan, the Great Streets Master Plan and the Comprehensive Downtown Parking Study —was first made to the City Council in July. (See In Fact Daily July 18, 2002 ; July 23, 2002 .) Other recommendations under the proposal included adjustments to accommodate the Seaholm Master Plan, peak-hour changes on Lamar and adjustments to Riverside Drive.

Chief among the concerns during this round of discussion was the city’s hesitation to address access problems on Cesar Chavez. The Downtown Austin Alliance has encouraged the city “to undertake a master plan to articulate and implement the vision of Cesar Chavez as a two-way boulevard.” City staff, however, led by Austan Librach, director of the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department, considered the delay caused by changes to be extremely problematic at this time. Council Member Will Wynn said problems would get worse, not better, in dealing with Cesar Chavez. He said that what is tough now will be even tougher in five years.

Librach explained that a model created by consultant Wilbur Smith for two-way traffic on Cesar Chavez, while desirable, would create a 9-minute delay at the intersection of Cesar Chavez and IH-35. That compares to an already troublesome 6-minute delay created by the traffic and construction at Ben White and IH-35.

Almost half the land downtown is still undeveloped, Wynn said. Developers could easily double the square footage of downtown buildings in coming years, bringing an even greater challenge to downtown access.

Librach said he could only hope that commuting would improve in the near future, at least enough to look for new alternatives for Cesar Chavez.

“We could be looking at a different situation in five years, ten years,” Librach said. “Even though downtown continues to grow, there is a slim chance from our perspective that we will find something that will eliminate or reduce traffic to a point where we think the community would be comfortable with the changes.”

That answer did not appear to satisfy Wynn, who said the department should use the traffic model created by Wilbur Smith to test all iterations—including additional left turn lanes and adjustments to traffic on adjacent streets—that could reduce traffic delays on Cesar Chavez.

Wynn also pointed out that the traffic model being used included the nonexistent Vignette office project. Take those 5,000 workers out of the equation, he said, and the traffic delays on Cesar Chavez might be reduced from 9 minutes to 7 minutes. Waiting for traffic flow to get better, rather than proactively trying different options, “is sort of a backwards approach” to planning, Wynn said.

Council Member Danny Thomas spoke of the local merchants’ concerns about turn restrictions off Lamar. And Council Member Daryl Slusher wanted to see more attention paid to alternatives on Riverside Drive, which city staff would eventually like to narrow to one lane in each direction.

The City Council is scheduled to address resolution of traffic issues—including the continued study of some recommendations and immediate implementation of others—at 6:30pm tonight.

Complaint: Rock and Roll ignored by Arts Commission

The City Council heard an update yesterday from Austin Music Commission Chair Kevin Connor. He said the commission’s chief accomplishments included continued support of the Austin Music Network and re-instituting the Music Industry Loan Program. He also urged the Council to seek out ways to reduce operating costs for live music venues and place a member of the Music Commission on the Arts Commission’s Music Advisory Panel. “Popular musicians have been routinely ignored when they apply for a grant from the Arts Commission . . . it hasn’t been considered art,” Connor said. “I would venture to say that Rock-and-Roll is art, especially here in Austin.” He noted that music events are responsible for a significant portion of the tourism dollars spent in Austin, which fund the arts grants through the hotel and motel bed tax. “Popular music is contributing to the bed tax, and yet not reaping the benefit of it,” Connor said. “Rock-and-Roll is a legitimate art form in this town, and when people have sound grant proposals that come to the Arts Commission, I hope they will be listened to.”

Despite revenue decrease, W/WW finished year "in good shape"

Chris Lippe, director of the city’s Water and Wastewater Utility, briefed the Water and Wastewater Commission last night on how the utility ended a turbulent fiscal year 2002. “We had a number of challenges that affected revenues and expenditures,” he said.

Even though the utility experienced a $15.4 million reduction in total revenue over the year, “we successfully completed the year without negatively affecting” the department, he said. Not only that, but the utility closed out the year’s book with $1.2 million more than expected, he noted.

Giving “lots of credit to managers and staff, we ended the year in good shape,” he said.

He cited various factors from the unaudited financial report for FY2002 to explain the decrease in revenue. Among them was reduced demand for water due to heavy rains last winter and again towards the end of the fiscal year. A depressed economy also played its part, especially because of reduced demand from commercial and industrial customers, he said. Other factors include the expense of increased security after September 11, 2001 and the cost of repairing damage from last November’s flooding.

Last night’s meeting took less than an hour, but the Commission unanimously passed nine separate items on consent, among them, recommendations for the City Council to approve various contracts with a total value of more than $9.8 million. Another item, pulled for discussion but also passed, was for a contract with Earth Tech Inc. for additional consulting services related to the Austin Clean Water Program. The additional amount the Commission is recommending comes to almost $4.28 million, for a total contract of nearly $7.28 million.

A contract with Eagle Construction and Environmental, L.P. for Water and Wastewater improvements, is valued at $2.19 million. Another contract, totaling $4.28 million, is for engineering services to be spread out among various firms on a rotation list.

Also among the items approved on consent was a provision to add almost a million dollars to a contract with PBS&J f or design phase engineering for the Barton Creek Lift Station Force Main Project. The total contract is worth $1.67 million.

Journeyman Construction L.P. gained approval for a $1.87 million contract to construct an electrical/training building and make site security improvements to the A.R. Davis Water Treatment Plant.

Approval to accept a grant from the Texas Forest Service for $2,500 to attack the spread of Oak wilt in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Cortania Tract also passed on consent.

The Commission voted 7-0 to pass the nine items on consent. Commissioners Rod Madden and Aida Berduo Douglas were absent. The vote on the item pertaining to Earth Tech was 6-0-1, with Commissioner Chien Lee abstaining.

The Commission also voted 7-0 to recommend approval of an ordinance for an agreement with Live Oak Development for construction of a 36-inch water main to provide water to the Pearce Lane Tract. The ordinance calls for reimbursement to the developer in the amount of $3.6 million for the creation and construction of a new water project, called the Pearce Lane Tract because it is located at Pearce Lane and Ross Road.

The project consists of a proposed 600-lot, single-family development located on 158 acres in Del Valle. Because of growth in the area, including a new high school, the existing water lines are no longer adequate, said Reynaldo Cantu, a managing engineer with the utility. With more development anticipated in the area, “this line is being oversized to serve the entire area,” he said.,

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

A comment from Kirk Watson . . . Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson, who was swept away by the Republican landslide along with the rest of the Democratic slate on Tuesday, told In Fact Daily Wednesday, “Obviously I’m disappointed in the numbers. . . I’ve been running this campaign for about a year now and looking back I have no regrets.” He said his experience on the campaign trail had been gratifying, in spite of the outcome, concluding, “It’s been a really wonderful experience and I’m a better guy for it” . . . Will Wynn to be honored . . . Council Member Will Wynn will receive the Scenic Austin’s 2002 Scenic Hero Award at tonight’s benefit for the beautification organization. Girard Kinney, the group’s president, remarked that Wynn is getting the award because he had worked so diligently to strengthen Austin’s billboard ordinance, championing downtown streetscapes and “leading the campaign to make SH 130 a scenic corridor.” The party will be from 6:30 to 8:30pm at Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal Lane (at South First Street). The party will feature tacos, beer and music by the Damnations . . . Kelsey leaving Scenic Austin . . . Tonight’s party will give supporters a chance to say good-bye to Scenic Austin Executive Director Winifred Kelsey . Kelsey says she is moving to Russia to be with her fiancé, Carleton Riser. The pair will travel back to Texas to marry in December and then return to Moscow, where Riser is in charge of constructing a building for Hines Development. Kelsey says they will stay in Moscow for about 18 months and then return to Austin . . . Foreign student to be honored . . . Mayor Gus Garcia will honor a freshman student at ACC today for his quick thinking in apprehending a thief at the Eckerd’s store on Guadalupe. The student, Younes Nachar is from Casa Blanca, Morocco. He heard shouts of “Thief!” and apprehended the man who had stolen a bunch of batteries and packs of cigarettes. Then Nachar held the alleged thief for about 20 minutes until police arrived on the scene. The hero has a job at the University Coop, is a tutor at ACC and works there also as a housekeeper . . . Round Rock on the move . . . Round Rock’s Planning and Community Development Department will host an Open House next Tuesday at 7pm at the Helen Griffith Library to update residents on the status of city projects in the southwest sector of downtown. Those projects include the first building in the new City Municipal Office Complex, plans for the new fire station and a senior citizens center. The ultimate goal is a master plan for downtown. For more information, call Leah Murphy at 218-5428.

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

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