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Those who pay for roads should benefit, says Dukes

Tuesday, June 15, 2004 by

Those who pay are the ones who should benefit from toll road revenues, Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) said at last night's meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board.

It's still a month until the CAMPO board votes on the $2.2 billion toll road plan, which has drawn some strong opposition, especially from Southwest Travis County. Last night, another seven speakers addressed the CAMPO board, most of them opposed to the toll road plan, especially the tolling of the bridge over William Cannon out of Circle C.

Debbie Peterson of the Shady Hollow Homeowners Association brought 516 yellow postcards with objections to the inclusion of State Highway 45 in the toll road plan. The plan would extend State Highway 45 from Loop 1 to FM 1626. The route would provide a bypass to Brodie Lane for local neighborhoods and the Austin Community College Pinnacle Campus located on FM 1626.

Last week, the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods passed a resolution opposing the inclusion of State Highway 45 Southwest in the region's toll plan, Peterson said. Still, even as Peterson opposed the tolling, she pleaded with the board to do something about the congestion on Brodie Lane due to "unbelievable growth."

"The growth and the development are there. It isn't going away," Peterson told the board. "We need relief in our area. We have traffic concerns that have been there for many, many years."

In other words, the Transportation Policy Board needed to find a way to fund a non-tolled way to relieve the congestion in Southwest Travis County. Asked directly whether she was opposed to toll roads, Peterson said she wasn't opposed to all toll roads, just the one that would end up being State Highway 45 in Southwest Austin.

Dukes jumped at the opportunity to address Peterson's comment. Why should the rest of the community profit from tolls collected in other parts of the county?, she asked. "If there is a community that does not pay into toll roads, they shouldn't receive proceeds for new roads from the tolls," Dukes said.

Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein stepped to the microphone to say that Dukes' particular question had not been fully considered by the Central Texas RMA. The question had legal ramifications.

But Dukes was quick to counter that those people who do pay into the toll road system—in East, Northwest and South Travis County—should have the reasonable expectation that if they pay into the toll system, they benefit from it. Otherwise, it would be just as well for those communities to refuse projects in their area.

After the meeting, CTRMA Chair Bob Tesch said of the CTRMA board, "We have a spirit and a high sensitivity to see that no community will benefit at the expense of another community in the region. If this community fights the toll road and another community agrees to it, then when it comes to time spend the money that comes out of the toll road, it should go to the community that pays for it."

Another speaker asked how Austin, with half the population of Houston or Dallas, was going to support a toll road system with about twice the mileage. When complete, the Austin toll road system would be 155 miles of lanes, compared to 83 miles in Houston and 107 miles either constructed or under construction in Dallas.

RMA consulting engineer Richard Ridings told In Fact Daily the viability of toll roads is based on the estimates of those who would be willing to pay to use them, rather than the population of an area. Ridings, who was once in charge of the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, said Oklahoma put roads through some of the sparsest areas of the state 50 years ago, based on estimates of usage.

Also during the meeting, a member of the audience questioned the "slick campaign" from proponents of the toll road plan. Don Martin, spokesman for Citizens for Mobility said the group's funding had come from various sources, such as individuals and businesses. It is not a Political Action Committee, or PAC, which would be a group campaigning during an election. Martin estimated the group had spent less than $50,000 on its efforts.

CAMPO's vote on the Central Texas toll road plan is set for July 12.

Minority contractor certification outsourced

The City Council voted 5 to 1, with Council Member Danny Thomas dissenting and Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman off the dais, to outsource certification of minority and women-owned businesses, and reassign three employees in the Department of Small and Minority Business Resources (DSMBR). The move took many members of the minority subcontracting community by surprise and sparked an angry outburst from James Harper, president of the Austin Black Contractors Association, during last week’s meeting.

The $50,000 contract would “provide a seamless transparent process,” to begin on October 1, according to Assistant City Attorney Sally Henly. She told the Council that switching from an employee-based process to an interlocal agreement with the South Central Texas Regional Certification Agency in San Antonio would provide a timely turnaround, using current City of Austin and federal certification standards and procedures. “They will maintain the same volume of certifications that we currently provide with a capacity to increase the number of certifications,” she said.

Thomas did not argue about the efficiency of the agency, but said he objected to the manner in which the matter was handled at the MBE/WBE Advisory Committee. “I would have been much more comfortable,” he said, if the advisory board had been privy to the details of the contract, even if there were legal matters that could not be released to them. In addition, he said he was concerned about the future of the three DSMBR employees who would be losing their current positions.

Thomas also said, “I don’t think $50,000 is going to take what we’re wanting to do,” adding that he thought the explanations given to the Council in executive session could have been provided in public. He said members of the advisory committee did not know anything about the outsourcing proposal until it arrived on the agenda of the Council subcommittee on minority business matters.

Harper, who addressed the Council Thursday night, said, “To me, this affects us. But nobody asked us.” He was especially critical of the city’s failure to give information to the advisory board, saying, “I know if this had something to do with the Planning Commission, you wouldn’t have bypassed the Planning Commission.” Harper said the city had reneged on its commitment to promoting blacks, saying there was only one black department head—the director of Solid Waste Services.

Futrell said, “Actually, Mr. Harper, we have several African-American department directors. We have an African-American assistant city manager; Alice Glasco is a director. You are wrong about that . . .” Harper did not understand that assistant city manager is a higher position than department director and continued to argue until Mayor Will Wynn intervened.

Carol Hadnot, also a member of the Black Contractors Association, said a member of the advisory committee had received a letter from city management stating that the group would hear about the contract at their next meeting—after the Council had taken action. “Now, if you all do not respect or even have any confidence in the people that you appoint to be on the M/WBE advisory board, why have one? That was totally disrespectful.”

On Monday, Deputy City Manager Joe Canales told In Fact Daily that some people were concerned that the change in certification procedure meant that the city was headed toward disassembling its minority-contracting program. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. The Council has indicated that the department should be doing more auditing of contracts after they have been awarded, to make sure that contractors are living up to their agreements. “That’s a priority,” he said, indicating that one or more of the employees previously assigned to certification would likely be working on such audits. Canales said the South Minority contractor certification outsourced certifies minority contractors for 13 other agencies, including Bexar County and Via, the San Antonio metro area transportation agency. He said he could not guarantee that all three employees would continue working in the department, but said that the city has made a commitment to their continued employment. DSMBR is one of the city’s smaller departments, with fewer than 20 employees, Canales said.

Today’s meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission will consider recommending a zoning change for a planned Walgreen's on South Lamar where the Maria’s Taco Xpress currently sits. Maria’s restaurant would acquire a new home at Bluebonnet and South Lamar, close to its current location. Neighbors, both pro and con, could fill Room 325 of One Texas Center at 6pm tonight. The commission will also make a recommendation on zoning for the Robinson Ranch, which is scheduled for Council consideration on Thursday . . . The Resource Management Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm in Room 304 of City Hall . . . ACC early voting ends tonight . . . Election officials at the ACC Rio Grande campus proudly proclaimed that their polling place is the choice of most politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats. They reported that Governor Rick Perry and former Governor Ann Richards both voted there, as did Congressman Lloyd Doggett, among others. As of Sunday night 950 registered voters had cast ballots to select a new ACC board member. Veronica Rivera is facing Marc Levin in this run-off, with early voting ending at 7pm tonight. Polls are open at the main campus, 5930 Middle Fiskville Road, as well as the Rio Grande, Northridge, Eastview, Riverside, Pinnacle and Cypress Creek campuses. The election is Saturday . . . Mental health and retardation report released . . . According to a report from the Community Action Network, there are about 24,000 people in Travis County with developmental disabilities and nearly 1,400 waiting for community-based services. Only 50 percent of these are employed and more than 30 percent live in households with incomes below the poverty level. CAN says volunteers are needed at a number of agencies serving citizens with mental health and retardation. For more information contact Susan Eason at 914-2114 or Louise Lynch at 445-7731 . . . An Austin Eye on Le Tour . . . Photographs of the Tour de France 2003 will be on display at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport ticketing lobby from June 22 to August 10. The photographs, including Austin’s own Lance Armstrong, feature the photography of Rodolfo Gonzalez . . . A word from Becky Armendariz Klein . . . Klein, who is hoping to unseat Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett, released at statement yesterday supporting a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration. She took the occasion of Flag Day to criticize Doggett for voting against such legislation and asserted that, “Protecting the U.S. flag from desecration upholds the ideals of liberty and equality that Americans have defended throughout our history . . .”

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