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Planning phase cost put at $300,000-$425,000

Tuesday, February 25, 2003 by

The Capital Metro Board of Directors yesterday approved an amendment to the interlocal agreement between the agency and the City of Austin to include use of mobility funds for planning the East 4th and 5th Street rail corridor. Last week, Capital Metro released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for planning the once-controversial Saltillo District Redevelopment Project. Members of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team were suspicious of the planning project last fall when they learned about it. After numerous meetings and some changes to the proposal, the RFP is back on track.

According to documents supplied by Capital Metro, the city and the transit agency would each pay about $150,000 for the first phase of the project, the master plan, which is scheduled to be completed around February of 2004. Emlea Chanslor, spokesperson for Cap Metro, said the $150,000 the agency has committed to the project “is not a cap, but that’s what’s budgeted,” for the project.

The second phase of the project, solicitation of a master developer, would begin next March and be completed at the end of 2004. Capital Metro documents show the final phase, implementation of the redevelopment master plan, would take two to five years. That would mean the transit stops, housing and/or businesses might be in place sometime between early 2007 and 2010.

Lori Renteria, a member of the East Cesar Chavez Planning Team and one of Cap Metro’s most vocal critics, told In Fact Daily last night she is glad the project has been broken into phases. Last fall, Cap Metro was only willing to discuss the planning phase, which will concentrate on an 11-acre tract on I-35 between East 4th and 5th Streets.

Renteria noted that the RFP now includes an environmental assessment—something the neighborhood activist said is definitely needed. However, she said she is concerned the assessment may not be good enough to ensure that federal money can be spent for low-income housing on the site. She said she would be looking forward to hearing about what kind of assessment would be needed at the bidders’ conference in March. Neighborhood residents have said the Capital Metro tract was once a dump, perhaps containing PCB transformers, she said. According to the interlocal agreement, Capital Metro will work with the city’s Brownfield Program staff to “procure environmental assessment and possible remediation services to the extent deemed appropriate by Capital Metro.”

The interlocal agreement, which will go to the City Council for approval on March 6, also states that the city will provide project management services “throughout all phases of the Saltillo District Redevelopment Project.”

“I personally feel vindicated in the fact that many changes have been made and (information is) out in public,” Renteria said. She said initially her group “had made a big issue that the original contract was for $150,000 and that wasn’t enough.” With extra funding from the Intermodal Planning Fund—money from the Capital Metro ¼-cent refund to the city, the estimated not-to-exceed budget for the first phase of the project is $425,000.

Silas says minorities well-represented in community initial phase

Envision Central Texas continues to push forward with a five-county regional plan intended to both handle growth and encourage area communities to set goals for themselves.

Executive Director Beverly Silas recently presented an update on the project to the Capital Metro board of directors. Capital Metro has committed almost $1.2 million toward the budget of the regional planning project—about half its budget. As Chairman Lee Walker pointed out to his colleagues, the regional planning effort essentially grew out of a Capital Metro retreat session two years ago, and board members pledged at that time to provide whatever money they could to create a planning initiative for Travis, Hays, Bastrop, Caldwell and Williamson counties.

“We agreed we would take a leadership role, in the sense that we would put up half a million and hope others would follow suit,” Walker said. “We would have been prepared to put up the entire $2 million because of the importance of this.”

Walker said the Envision Central Texas team had been “selling, explaining, begging, cajoling and elbowing” governments around the region to participate in a strategy for a five-county region that will grow from 1.4 million to 2.5 million people over the next 40 years.

Envision Central Texas is being managed by Oregon-based urban planners Fregonese Calthorpe Associates. FCA has managed projects in Salt Lake City, Portland and Denver. The planning team completed sessions around the region last fall, Silas said. This spring, the board will consider four pilot projects across the region, suggested by participating governments. Those projects include McNeil Junction, which was submitted by Capital Metro.

Board member John Treviño wanted to make sure minorities would be well represented in the comment phase of the planning process. Silas assured him that this was the goal of the planning team. The budget for outreach, Silas said, had been increased by $124,000 to ensure that the group reaches the minority community. She estimated that about a quarter of the planning participants were minority group members, adding that she was “comfortable” with that figure being representative of the community.

The Capital Metro board was interested in Envision Texas’ progress on transportation goals. Silas said transportation is one of a number of components being explored by the regional planning team. A transportation consultant was hired in December, and a long-term plan should be presented in May.

Silas said the Envision Central Texas planning process is unique because staff members working on the project will remain in place after the regional plan is developed. The goal, Silas said, would be to help local governments implement plan strategies. The plan will be revisited every five years.

Meetings cancelled . . . Neither the Historic Landmark Commission nor the Zoning and Platting Commission task force on downtown design guidelines met last night because of inclement weather. CAMPO also postponed a public meeting that had been scheduled for last night in San Marcos. For information on rescheduling of that meeting, check the web site http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/campo . . . Tonight will be better, we hope . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission is scheduled to have a regular meeting at 6pm tonight. The Council’s Audit and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet at 10am, but that may not happen because of the weather . . . Beal, Keller honored . . . The Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE) has named LCRA General Manager Joe Beal 2002 Engineer of the Year and Susan L. Keller Young Engineer of the Year. Keller is a utility development coordinator in the LCRA’s Water Services division. Both were honored during the group’s awards banquet on Saturday . . . Bikeway decision may not come this week . . . Austan Librach, director of the Planning Transportation & Sustainability Department, said last night that he is considering asking that the decision on the downtown route of the bikeway be postponed. Librach said his staff is still learning toward the 4th Street designation, but would like to know whether Cesar Chavez is going to remain one-way or be converted to two-way before the Council makes a decision on the bikeway . . . Krusee encourages sharing . . . Lee Walker, chair of the Capital Metro board, has received a letter from Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) encouraging the board to work with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) “on a program of joint projects.” Walker expressed enthusiasm for the idea, while board member John Treviño cautioned, “This is an opportunity for us to share our money (with them).” Treviño added that the mobility authority might help Cap Metro by pushing for a commuter rail line from outlying suburbs such as Leander to downtown. Commissioner Margaret Gomez was not at all certain that the authority could build rail lines, but said they could be given such authority by the Legislature . . . Bus ridership up . . . Cap Metro President/CEO Fred Gilliam told the board Monday that overall ridership for the bus system was up more than 5 percent in January, with University of Texas ridership increasing by more than 19 percent. Rob Smith added that ‘Dillo riders have increased by about 12 percent. On-time performance for buses continues to hover around the 90 percent mark and operating income is nearly 11 percent higher than budgeted. Also, expenses are higher and sales tax revenue has declined.

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

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