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Travis blinks on Gattis School Road

Tuesday, April 13, 2004 by

Congestion already a huge problem for road's residents

Travis County pulled a plan amendment for Gattis School Road off the agenda of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization last night.

County Judge Sam Biscoe joked the county had “seen the light” on Gattis School Road. Actually, the Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department had seen little easy resolution on the roadway expansion when it met with the neighborhood in Pflugerville in early April.

Adjacent neighborhoods had complained the county did not have sufficient right-of-way without putting the roadway within feet of existing homes. Travis County brought five options to the table, said TNR Executive Director Joe Gieselman. Instead of coming to a compromise, the neighborhood brought another three options. Biscoe said the county needed to evaluate the options.

The only option homeowner Dale Harrington of the Forest Creek Estates neighborhood wanted to choose was one that bypassed the neighborhood. Harrington described the other proposed options – splitting the road around the neighborhood, leaving the road as a two-lane road through the homes and using Priem Road as an alternate route – were no options at all, Harrington said.CAMPO needs to abide by its own policy “to avoid neighborhood filtration.” He admonished the various governmental bodies “to do the right thing.”

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty urged members of the Transportation Policy Board to drive Gattis School Road. Daugherty described the road as a bottleneck even before the roadway narrowed at the neighborhoods.

“You don’t truly understand until you drive out there and see it,” said Daugherty of the congestion issues on Gattis School Road. “That’s not to say the decision we will make it’s not going to be an easy decision.”

Even though the item had been pulled, Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell wanted to know if the Texas Department of Transportation was firmly committed to maintaining the Gattis School intersection at State Highway 130. Engineer Bob Daigh confirmed the alignment was firm, and TxDOT had no plans to move the intersection, regardless of the decision on Gattis School’s alignment.

Congestion had become such an issue on Gattis School Road that Travis County had proposed putting the expansion on the “fast track” for CAMPO 2030. The county’s transportation department had proposed shifting the alignment of Gattis School Road to extend it from Travis to Williamson county and eventually create an intersection with State Highway 130, which is now under construction.

Right now, Gattis School Road narrows to a two-lane road that ends at F.M. 685. The section on the Travis County side would be expanded to a 4-lane major arterial that would continue through Williamson County. The portion through Williamson County, however, is too narrow for a 4-lane roadway and would require rerouting the road through local neighborhoods.

Travis County TNR had its idea of where it would go: One option would shift the alignment of Gattis School Road north and across State Highway 130 to hook up with County Road 138 on the other side so an east-west arterial is created.

Biscoe said Travis County hopes to put the Gattis School Road improvements back on the CAMPO agenda in May.

Toll roads offer best option says Heiligenstein

Long-planned projects could begin within 3 years

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has proposed an ambitious $2.2 billion toll road plan that includes almost every major road project considered a priority by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).

If CAMPO approves the plan, close to a dozen projects that have been the frequent subject of discussion at CAMPO meetings could be underway within 36 months. It would take close to 30 years for CAMPO to do these projects at current funding rates. And, beyond that, the tension between suburban and urban priorities would make it almost impossible to prioritize funding, which is doled out in increments.

The $2.2 billion plan puts Austin on a par with the much bigger sister transit agencies in Houston and Dallas. In a presentation last night, RMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said the system would be a combination of new roads and added capacity to roads such as US 183, State Highway 71, Loop 1 and State Highway 45 Southwest. “Many of these roads have been on the plan for ages, many decades,” Heiligenstein said. “We are trying desperately to put that plan into action now.”

For Heiligenstein, the question is not if, but how the roads can be built. For the third year in a row, Austin ranks as the most congested medium-sized city in America.

A gasoline tax would be impossible, Heiligenstein said, and property taxes couldn’t cover the debt. The passage of the recent $300 million bond issue on roads in Williamson County was proof that even a large-scale bond issue won’t cover the basics.

CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board agreed to schedule a hearing on the Central Texas RMA plan on May 10. A final vote on the plan, which would be added to the CAMPO 2025 plan, would be in June.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, a de facto regional Texas Department of Transportation, was formed under House Bill 3588. The Dallas and Houston toll roll authorities rolled out under a much more gradual process.

The North Texas Tollway Authority, for example, began with the Texas Transportation Commission’s construction of the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike, now the toll-free Interstate 30, back in 1957. The Dallas North Tollway began construction more than a decade later. The George Bush Turnpike followed and is still under construction. The NTTA wasn’t even created until 1997.

Harris County voters approved the creation of the Harris County Toll Road Authority in 1983. The 83-mile road network, a large outer loop around the city, required the issuance of an initial $900 million in general obligation bonds. Once the 30-year bonds are paid on the projects, the roads will be designed as “free” roads and revert to the Texas Department of Transportation for maintenance.

Regional transportation plans start with State Highway 130, State Highway 45 North and a segment that extends Loop 1 up to State Highway 45. TxDOT will complete State Highway 45 Southeast and CTRMA will soon start construction on US 183A.

A number of toll projects are on schedule for groundbreaking within 18 months. Those projects would add 2 toll lanes in each direction for added capacity: the “Y” at Oak Hill at US 290; US 183 from I-35 to State Highway 71; State Highway 71, from I-35 to Presidential Boulevard; Loop 1, from State Highway 71 to William Cannon. A four-lane State Highway 45 Southwest, from Loop 1 to FM 1626, would be constructed in addition to the other projects.

Another four projects would be underway in 36 months. These, too, would add 2 lanes in each direction to the “Y” in Oak Hill on the State Highway 71 side, Loop 360 from RM 2244 to Walsh Tarleton and US 290 from US 183 to SH 130. The Central Texas RMA would also complete the two direct ramps that connect Loop 1 to State Highway 71.

Central Texas RMA would shop Loop 360, which would connect the Arboretum to Barton Creek Mall, as a franchise project. That would hand over the project to a private developer that could make a possible profit off the toll facility. Heiligenstein provided a pie chart for the funding of the toll road system. TxDOT would provide a $490 million in right-of-way and professional services support, plus another $440 million in contribution funds. Another $405 million would come from revenue bonds, to be rebated with toll revenues.

The Central Texas Turnpike Project will contribute another $220 million to the total. CAMPO will provide $23.7 million in mobility funds and local governments have already committed $22.9 million. Franchise participation should raise $452.7 million; and the Texas Department of Transportation will commit $161 million from the Texas Mobility Funds if the Central Texas RMA commits to its development plan..

ZAP to review S. Lamar area zoning map

Commission will look at commercial and retail

A family’s request to rezone three lots along South Lamar Boulevard has prompted the Zoning and Platting Commission to review the zoning for the surrounding area. Staff had offered support for the change from SF-3 to CS-CO with several restrictions, but Commission Chair Betty Baker instead convinced the commission to post the entire area for a possible rezoning at a future meeting.

Jim Bennett, serving as the agent for the family which owns property at 1704 and 1706 Evergreen Avenue and at 1707 South Lamar, had asked for the change to CS to clarify the development rights for the lots. “The property is developed within that general area with old homes that were converted to business uses, some one-man shop operations and that type of thing,” said Bennett. “If this property were to ever be redeveloped, it’s going to be difficult for someone to try to decipher what they could and couldn’t do.”

Bennett’s case addressed only the property owned by his client, and had conditional support from Annick Beaudet with the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. She suggested that the rezoning should go forward with a provision to limit the uses allowed under CS zoning. “A change in conditions has occurred in the past 20 years that has seen development along Evergreen more intense than SF-3,” she said. “However, we haven’t seen intensity as high as CS. There’s some multi-family; the CS base district is there, but it’s highly conditioned. There is no lack of CS in the area.”

But Baker told Bennett and her fellow Commissioners that CS was probably not necessary on the tract. “This is a mess,” she said, after reviewing the map of the area. She said the abundance of CS zoning on surrounding lots amounted to an over-zoning of the neighborhood, since many of those tracts were occupied by uses that could exist under lower zoning categories. She proposed posting several of the tracts for CS zoning as a city-initiated case, with the warning that the eventual zoning could be much lower. “We’re looking at probably GR,” she said. “GR would probably be over-zoning it, but it’s down-zoning it, too. Retail is going to be awkward. I was hoping some continuity could come about and the whole thing would develop . . . and everybody would have the same rules. If it’s advertised as CS, it might come out as GR with a lot of uses prohibited . . . it might come out as LR.”

Commissioner Joseph Martinez moved to post the area bounded by South Lamar, West Mary and Evergreen for a zoning change. Staff recommended that the posting be for CS-MU to allow maximum flexibility, and the motion passed unanimously. The cases originally brought by Bennett will be continued while the commission reviews the city-initiated cases.

McCracken has new aide . . . Rich Bailey, who has been working for the health care district campaign, has joined Karen Gross as executive assistant to Council Member Brewster McCracken. Bailey also worked for the ill-fated 2002 Ann Kitchen re-election campaign and for Motorola. He begins work for McCracken today and Matt Curtis officially begins duties in the office of Mayor Will Wynn . . . Design standards conversation at RECA . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken and city planner Scott Polikov will be talking about retail design standards at the Real Estate Council of Austin luncheon today at the Four Seasons. McCracken encouraged the city to survey citizens on their ideas about building design, landscaping and other design questions. The result, according to McCracken’s office, has been record participation. More than 4700 individuals have already contributed their ideas about retail development standards. The survey will be online through Thursday at . . Governor starts PR offensive . . . The Republican Party of Texas is inviting like-minded citizens to join Governor Rick Perry “for a Taxpayer Protection event on the south steps of the State Capitol” at noon on Thursday. Perry has drawn fire from local governments, including Travis County, for proposing a 3-percent-per-year cap on property taxes, as part of his plan to eliminate the Robin Hood school finance system. They fail to mention that property tax is deductible from federal income taxes while sales tax is not . . . Runoff election today . . . Polls are open from 7am to 7pm at the same polling locations as the March 9 Primary. Republicans are electing a Republican candidate for sheriff and a nominee who will automatically become a Congressman for District 10. There is no other candidate running for that seat. Democrats living in one of the 36 South Austin precincts within the Constable Pct. 4 boundaries may choose between Maria Canchola, the incumbent, and challenger Leticia Lugo . . . Mitigation policy discussion . . . The city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review Department will hold a series of public meetings to discuss and receive comments from the public about a proposed mitigation policy for development in the Barton Springs Zone. The first of those will be at 6pm tonight at Town Lake Center, 721 Barton Springs Road . . . Williamson County stakeholders meeting tonight. . . Those interested in the conceptual regional habitat conservation plan are invited to the meeting at Deep Wood Elementary School, 705 St. Williams Dr. in Round Rock beginning at 6:30pm tonight. The non-profit Williamson County Conservation Foundation was formed to address endangered species such as the three listed Karst cave invertebrates, and a candidate for endangered listing, the Georgetown Salamander. Stakeholders are expected to discuss a variety of environmental and economic development issues in a fast-growing Williamson County. Tonight’s meeting will include discussion of the establishment of a Williamson County Habit Conservation Plan. For additional information contact Don Martin or Kalinda Howe at Martin & Salinas Public Affairs, (512) 328-4055, or . . . Regional meeting . . . The metropolitan planning organizations of the Austin area and Bexar County region will meet together on Wednesday, April 21. It will be the first time the two groups have met together since 1997. Topics on the agenda will include presentations by MPOs, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Corridor Council. The meeting will be held in the JC Kellam Building at Texas State University campus in San Marcos at 6:30pm.

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