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CAMPO board approves bicycle projects

Tuesday, December 9, 2003 by

Air quality impact tiny compared to amount generated by cars

The unanimous vote in favor of bicycle/pedestrian projects at last night’s Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting was so unexpected that Mayor Will Wynn, a Democrat, joked that Republican Commissioner Gerald Daugherty had given him enough courage to go ahead and vote in favor of the proposal.

“I want to thank Commissioner Gerald Daugherty for giving me the political cover to vote ‘aye,’” Wynn told the policy board as the vote was taken.

The vote guaranteed that CAMPO would spend 15 percent of its mobility funds on bicycle/pedestrian projects over the next three years. The projects were approved under CAMPO’s Transportation Improvement Program, which is funded by federal STP MM funds and a portion of local matching funds.

Daugherty told his colleagues he knew it would shock them, but he couldn’t help but vote for the motion, given the fact that the figure for bike projects was insignificant in comparison to the full impact of mobility funds.

The Transportation Policy Board was asked to pick from among three funding scenarios over the next three years. All three were a balance of air quality and mobility projects. One funded a little over 7 percent of bike projects; the other two funded 15 percent.

But even the most stringent air quality list would have the impact of removing only 287 pounds of emissions per day over the next two years. Vehicles in the five-county region create 60 tons of emissions per day. Daugherty said the numbers made CAMPO’s efforts appear inconsequential.

“It almost seems insignificant to go through this whole process,” Daugherty told CAMPO staff member Cathy Stephens. “That’s less than one percent.”

Stephens said the number was small, but the combination of road projects still totaled 10 percent of the total 1.5 tons of emission reductions the region will take to the Environmental Protection Agency in the coming months for approval.

Daugherty said he could support the bicycle/pedestrian projects because the impact of going with or without them made little difference. Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright, on the other hand said he would support the bicycle/pedestrian projects because he had received so many strong e-mails on the subject. That earned him the nickname “Commissioner Bikeright” from his colleagues.

The final vote earned 22 ayes, plus an abstention from Commissioner Todd Baxter. The board also agreed to put off the list of 2007 projects until more information is in from the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, an argument made by TxDOT Engineer Bob Daigh during the discussion of the projects.

The board agreed to vote on those 2007 projects, totaling $28 million, at CAMPO’s March meeting. A total of $17 million will come from STP MM funds.

The first two years of funding, which will cost a little more than $5 million, will cover the top 10 air quality projects ranked by a CAMPO subcommittee. Those projects included a bicycle hub at UT, the purchase of a hybrid bus for UT and signalization/road projects for San Marcos.

The list also includes improved intersections/signalization around Austin: US 183 between Pond Springs and RM 620, Parmer between Neeha and Amherst, Loop 360 between US 183 and RM 2222, RM 2222 between Loop 360 and RM 620, and Far West between Loop 1 and Hart Lane.

Two objections were raised, as Rep. Eddie Rodriguez noted that only one mobility project was approved for East Austin, and County Judge Sam Biscoe asked that the road improvements for Howard Lane be bumped up the list because of the impending construction of State Highway 130.

Neighborhood wins one round with recycling center

BOA rejects Balcones' request for parking variance

Neighbors’ concerns convinced the Board of Adjustment to reject a request from the Balcones Recycling Center in East Austin for a second time last night. The recycling operation was seeking a re-consideration from the board on a parking variance in order to rearrange some equipment on its site to improve efficiency.

Ron Thrower, representing Balcones Recycling, told the board that the modifications being requested would help the neighborhood, not harm it. “There’s two bailers in operation,” he said. “We have the opportunity to place a bailer on the other end of the property. We are taking the noise and the equipment associated with half of the operation and moving it to the western end of the property…putting it more in the industrial and commercially-zoned properties and removing it from the single-family and residential properties.” Moving the equipment, Thrower said, would allow for a more efficient operation but would also require the construction of a larger building. Because of the city’s rules linking the required number of parking spaces to building size, the company would have to add parking even though it is not planning to add personnel. Without the variance, Thrower concluded, the company would have to operate the existing equipment for extended hours in the morning and evening to process the same amount of material.

But neighbors of the plant in the East 6th Street corridor were not convinced the move would be in their best interest. “We have been through this before…the feelings in the neighborhood remain the same—in opposition to Balcones Recycling being there,” said Gloria Moreno with the Pedernales Neighborhood Association. “I don’t know what the difference is between moving the equipment from the east end to the west end. What I’m thinking is…in the last seven years, their business has really grown. They’re expanding and need to build more structures. What they need to do is find another location.”

With the exception of Board Chair Herman Thun, board members were also skeptical of the need for the variance. Frank Fuentes used Thrower’s admission that the plant could continue to operate, albeit at extended hours, as a reason to move for denial of the variance. “They have not shown me hardship,” he said. “By their own admission, they can accomplish the same thing in a different way.” Chairman Thun sought for a way to justify the variance because of the reduction in noise and the hours of operation, but was unsuccessful. He eventually joined the other four commissioners in supporting a motion by Fuentes to deny the variance. “What we’re doing here is impacting the neighborhood negatively, in the short haul,” he said. “I really feel that something could be better. But the hardship is not shown to me either.”

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Envisioning a different kind of future . . . The results of the Envision Central Texas survey are in. More than 12,000 people in the five-county region took part in the vote either by mail or on-line. The group presented four possible scenarios for handling growth over the next 20 to 40 years. The overwhelming favorite, with more than 50 percent of the vote, was Scenario D. It calls for preserving open space, guiding growth into established communities, and extensive commuter rail and light-rail networks. “People are saying they want something different from what we have,” said Envision Central Texas Board Chairman Neal Kocurek. “They want to see a mix of roads and transit.” The information from the survey will be used to develop a regional planning guide, which will be submitted to city and county officials this spring. It will be up to each jurisdiction to determine how much, if any, of the document they want to adopt . . . Today’s meetings . . . The City Council Audit and Finance Committee is scheduled to meet in City Hall Room 304 at 10:30am today. Their agenda—no barn-burner—includes a new report on the Law Department and information on sales taxes from previously unknown businesses. Council members will also hear about the new employee-health-managed-care contract . . . The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm at One Texas Center. They are scheduled to consider, among other things, whether to recommend historic zoning for the Eckhardt-Potts House at 209 East 34th Street. Staff has already recommended the historic designation and the item appears on this week’s Council agenda . . . The navigation committee of the Parks and Recreation Board will meet at 6pm and the full board is scheduled for 6:30pm. Their agenda includes a request for a recommendation regarding “boat races on Town Lake at Auditorium Shores in 2004.” In October, race promoter William Archer gave up on returning boat races to Festival Beach in East Austin. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 8, 2003.) . . . Redistricting hearing today. . . The three-judge panel visiting Austin to hear a federal lawsuit over the new redistricting map will hear arguments today on whether they should grant a summary judgment based on a theory similar to one that persuaded the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn that state’s redistricting map. The chances of that happening here do not seem good, however, since the Texas Constitution does not prohibit redistricting between censuses. The trial is scheduled to begin on Thursday.

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