Thursday, January 30, 2003 by

The first meeting of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority lacked fireworks, but there were obvious signs that showed just how high interest is in the state’s first RMA.

The conference room at the Austin Marriott North was packed on Wednesday morning. About half of the 100 or so attendees were sent by local governments and agencies that will have a direct interest in the future mobility authority—the Texas Department of Transportation, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Metro, the Austin Chamber of Commerce and transportation staff from both Travis and Williamson

Counties.

Representatives from firms likely to bid on projects made up the other half of the audience. While many Austin transportation meetings are peppered with protesting neighborhood associations or anti-development activists, this meeting was crowded with representatives of some of Austin’s most prominent engineering, financing and construction businesses. RMA Commissioners agreed to issue a Request for Qualifications for both financial and accounting services for the RMA.

Newly appointed Board Chair Bob Tesch of Williamson County guided the proceedings. Most matters on the agenda were a matter of housekeeping or common knowledge.

Consultant Mike Weaver of Prime Strategies, who will see the RMA through the administrative process until a permanent executive director is chosen, briefed the board on US 183A, the first proposed project for the RMA. The project, Weaver said, already has environmental clearance as well as right-of-way in Leander, Williamson County and Cedar Park.

The Texas Department of Transportation went through an Exclusive Development Agreement on US 183A similar to that for State Highway 130, Weaver said, until the transit agency decided to put US 183A on hold. That means two pre-qualified development teams have already been identified for the project. Weaver said it would be up to the board to decide whether to use the work completed by TxDOT or proceed with its own study of the project.

The second project in line for the RMA, with strong support from Travis County Commissioners, is the east leg of State Highway 45 South. TxDOT has an aggressive schedule to get environmental clearance for the project over the next 12 to 18 months, Weaver said. The project currently has no funding, but Weaver was quick to add that the state expects that portion of SH 45 South to be completed by the time the full length of State Highway 130 is finished, to give proper access to I-35.

Eight other projects were identified by the RMA in its petition to TxDOT. Weaver and attorney Brian Cassidy of Locke Liddell & Sapp will be providing a more detailed summary of those projects for the RMA board to consider. Correspondence also will be kept at the Locke Liddell & Sapp office until permanent offices are secured for the Central Texas RMA.

Cassidy suggested that the RMA form its own operations and planning committee to consider how the authority would interface with TxDOT. Construction standards, design standards and partnering agreements must all be reached between the RMA and the state highway agency. Tesch said the issue could be considered at next month’s board meeting.

In the meantime, the board must also consider the RMA’s transition to permanent staff. Tesch has asked Weaver and Cassidy to present short- and long-range staffing plans for the mobility authority, as well as a possible job description for an executive director. Tesch expects permanent staff to be in place in the next three to six months, he told his board colleagues.

The RMA board will also be meeting on a monthly basis during the legislative session to track relevant legislation. Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) has already filed legislation to give RMAs bonding and condemnation authority, and those bills could be passed on emergency consent in mid-March. Other current and anticipated bills include comprehensive legislation on the governor’s proposed Trans Texas Corridor, which is expected to rely heavily on regional mobility authorities. As early as today, bills might also be filed to create a new separate section of state code that deals solely with RMAs.

The Central Texas RMA is tentatively scheduled to meet the last Wednesday of each month at locations along the Travis-Williamson county line. Next month, the commissioners have asked Weaver to set aside time for a full workshop on the specifics of regional mobility authorities.

Staff still recommending 4th Street for bikeway

After some of the transportation proposals for the Central Business District garnered a lukewarm reception late last year, city staff revised the list of options to improve traffic flow downtown. At that time, Council members approved some of the 15 recommendations, but sent the rest back for further study. Staff of the Transportation Planning and Sustainability Department brought some of those back for discussion during Wednesday’s work session, including a proposal for converting some one-way streets into two-way and a series of options for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway .

While the original two-way streets proposal involved four sets of paired streets, the current version would only affect 9th and 10th streets. “There was so much concern about the two-way streets, we decided to only look at these two,” said Austan Librach, director of TPSD. “They have no loss of parking and very little cost.” Both streets already contain sections of two-way traffic, and Librach said that making them two-way for their entire stretch through downtown would reduce driver confusion.

The change would provide additional connections to I-35 and could help route traffic around the federal building on 9th Street, where the General Services Administration has closed off part of the street for security purposes. The initial cost for the alteration would be $182,000, with money for future traffic control measures coming from the Great Streets program.

Although the recommendation for two-way traffic has been significantly modified, the staff is standing by its recommendation to route the Lance Armstrong Bikeway down 4th Street. When the Council previously discussed the item, Council Member Will Wynn had numerous pointed questions about that option, since it would run the bikeway through the Warehouse District. Librach told Council members that staff had attempted to balance out the needs of cyclists, downtown business owners, drivers and pedestrians in making their recommendation. “For cyclists’ safety, they’ve indicated they would prefer 4th Street.

On the other hand, Warehouse District businesses have clearly indicated they would prefer it to be on 3rd,” he said. Staff also had to review street conditions in the area, including the number of driveways and the number of converted warehouses still using their original loading docks. “There are three active loading docks . . . one on 4th, one on San Jacinto and one on 3rd. In either case, whether Lance Armstrong is 4th Street or 3rd Street, the active loading dock on 4th is a problem,” Librach said. “If you were to move it to 3rd, you would have two more loading docks that would come into play that would be considerations or restrictions. There are a whole variety of driveways that present some problems. Most of them exist on 3rd rather than 4th, but there are driveway problems on both streets.”

Librach also pointed to the number of parking spaces that would be affected by the different proposed routes. The staff recommendation of 4th Street would eliminate at least 41 parking spaces, but most of those would be east of Congress Ave. Of the three options presented for using 3rd Street, two resulted in a loss of parking spaces while the third would result in a gain of more than 20 spaces.

Council members could be pressed to take action soon on choosing a route for the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, since some of the federal funding slated for the project is time-sensitive. The other traffic recommendations, including proposals for left-turn signals on Congress Avenue and major changes to the traffic flow on Cesar Chavez could be addressed at a later date.

Human exposure potential in ravine less likely

A toxicologist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) told In Fact Daily Wednesday that it is inappropriate to compare the dry ravine where high levels of benzo(a)pyrene were found to federal superfund sites. That ravine, which has been called the unnamed tributary to Barton Creek, is directly down from the Barton Hills Park Place Apartments. However, TCEQ senior toxicologist Michael Honeycutt said there was no need to move or evacuate people from the apartment complex. The Austin American-Statesman has compared the unnamed tributary—and Barton Springs—to a number of superfund sites and called on the city to get federal help for the problem.

“It’s a little apples and oranges because the superfund sites—those were in people’s back yards. With the tributary, it’s not that people don’t get down there, but it’s not the same people doing it over and over again daily. It’s really two different scenarios,” he concluded. Honeycutt said there is always the possibility that someone will walk through the ravine, because it is dry most of the time. “The levels are high—don’t get me wrong—but because it’s in the bottom of the ditch we don’t think the potential for people to be exposed is high.”

Honeycutt said he expects to receive the remainder of the sampling results by late Friday. However, it may be mid-week before the results have been analyzed by the agency.

A former city employee, environmental scientist Adrienne Boer, contacted In Fact Daily to point out that the city attempted to have Barton Creek placed on the state’s list of impaired waterways in late 1998 and early 1999. At that time, according to records from the TCEQ, the city expressed concerns about polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds in sediment in the creek. Boer, who now works at PBS&J, dug up the records on TCEQ’s web site. That site shows the state “completed evaluation of the City of Austin sediment quality data and placed (part of the creek) on 303(d) concerns list for 10 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds.” However, as Boer notes, “TCEQ states the remedy is to put Barton on the Concerns list. But, upon looking at the Concerns list, it is missing.”

Last week, the SOS Alliance and the Austin Sierra Club reiterated a request that TCEQ to put Barton Springs and Barton Creek on the state-wide list of threatened bodies of water. At that time, an agency spokesman said the creek did not meet the definition of impaired. (See In Fact Daily Jan. 24, 2003. )

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Katz takes the plunge . . . Restaurant owner Marc Katz, who announced earlier this month he would be running for Mayor, filed his notice of campaign treasurer yesterday. James P. Kelly, who shares Katz’ business address, will be taking care of the finances . . . Slusher to offer Iraq resolution . . . Council Member Daryl Slusher is sponsoring a resolution on next week’s Council agenda asking the President not to take unilateral action and to give U.N. inspectors more time to search for chemical and biological weapons. Likely co-sponsors are Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez . . . At today’s meeting, St. David’s hospital will ask for final approval of a plan to cut down a large number of oak trees to facilitate expansion of the hospital. Neighbors, who have opposed the removal of the trees, are likely to seek a postponement . . . The Council may also designate as historic a 1930’s era hanger at Robert Mueller Airport. A historic designation would prevent future demolition of the building, which has been discussed by community artists wishing to erect a giant armadillo on the premises . . . Members of the Fairview Park Neighborhood in South Austin will be seeking zoning changes in line with the area’s neighborhood plan. One property owner, who owns a house on Newning, will be asking the Council not to zone his house historic, because he wants to demolish it and build condominiums . . . Meals on Wheels grant announced . . . The community service organization that provides hundreds of meals to home-bound senior citizens won a $12,250 grant from the St. David’s Foundation to help fund a geriatric care manager. Meals on Wheels and More is seeking additional funding for that position . . . Correction noted . . . Although In Fact Daily offers corrections in the Whispers section of the publication, the Austin American Statesman remarks on its own errors in obscure locations within the newspaper, regardless of the prominence of the original story. Thus, editors noted at the end of their corrections section yesterday—at the bottom of page A2 and headlined, “Corrections”—that the newspaper had been mistaken when it reported a City of Austin staff member had received a chemical burn while collecting salamanders in Upper Barton Springs. “The biologist suffered skin irritation; the cause is not known,” the correction concluded. Some city employees were challenging each other yesterday to find the correction in the newspaper . . . EB update sought . . . The Environmental Board has asked for its own update from staff on the alleged contamination of Barton Springs Pool. A tentative date of Feb. 19 has been set for the report . . . More EB news . . . The Environmental Board has approved a variance for an eight-home cul-de-sac for the Panther Hollow Creek Phase 1, not far from the River Pointe development. The variance will allow the developer to build on a slope and includes a conservation easement and a limitation on developed square footage. Board member Tim Jones expressed concerns that proper erosion controls stay in place

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights

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