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CAMPO board seems poised to approve toll road plan

Tuesday, July 6, 2004 by

Daugherty, Keel offer firm opposition; Baxter undeclared

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is entering the home stretch on voting for a proposed $2.2 billion toll road plan.

The signs are pointing toward approval, despite the opposition of County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty and Rep. Terry Keel (R-Austin). Most recently, the Technical Advisory Committee of CAMPO's Transportation Policy Board gave its approval to the plan.

In a memo to the committee, CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick recommended approval of the plan, citing inadequate funding to build needed highways and a state policy that encourages toll roads. He added that he was recommending the plan because it provided "transportation, and environmental justice and equity."

According to Aulick's memo, "Federal law and executive orders prohibit disparate or unequal impacts of transportation systems, with special attention to impacts on minority and low-income citizens (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and others). The proposed package of toll roads is distributed in a balanced geographic pattern, which is consistent with these justice and equity policies."

That counters Daugherty's arguments that East Austin shouldn't, and wouldn't, accept toll roads and that the area should be entitled to free roads, like other areas of the county. Daugherty would prefer to use excess Capital Metro funds to build roads throughout the county, he told Travis County Republicans last week.

Daugherty told the group he had received more than 5,000 emails opposing the toll road plan in less than a week. Aulick, however, said he had received a little over 1,100 communications via email, fax and letter by the end of June. Within those communications, support and opposition to a toll road plan was almost equally divided.

In general, those in favor of the toll roads wrote that the plan appeared to be the only viable way to provide a long-term solution for the area, Aulick said. Opponents, on the other hand, had stronger doubts about whether the Texas Department of Transportation was really facing a problem building roads.

At the panel discussion before Travis County Republicans last week, Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) argued that the toll road plan was the most logical way to stretch the region's dollars for much-needed roads. Daugherty argued he could support toll roads, just not the toll road plan on the table for the Travis-Williamson counties area.

The $2.2 billion toll road plan includes those dollars the region would see anyway and those the county would not see under traditional means. About $1.6 billion—the revenue bonds, savings from TxDOT services and CDA project on Loop 360—would come from non-conventional sources under the toll road plan.

Daugherty and Keel have been the only vocal opponents to the toll road plan. Daugherty made the point that if the plan does pass CAMPO, five of the votes will come from outside Travis County. Travis County is where most of the toll roads will be built and most of the tolls paid.

State Rep. Todd Baxter told members of RECA last week that he was not ready to support the toll road proposal going before CAMPO next Monday. Baxter's address was on school finance, but he responded to questions from the audience afterwards about the vote on the toll road plan. "I had several public hearings on the issue, and I haven't seen consensus," he said. "It's pretty tough. Some of the folks at these hearings were pretty adamant and are becoming very organized . . . They expressed concerns, some of which was 'not in my backyard', and some of it was valid transportation planning issues."

RECA is supporting the toll road proposal, and members have received an email advising them of the reasons for that support. The group also allowed Pete Winstead of Citizens for Mobility to speak for a few minutes at the meeting. "A personal letter from you to a CAMPO board member urging them to vote 'yes' is what we need you to do," he said. "And if you can show up down there, RECA has been well represented. Please show up and be heard."

The Transportation Policy Board will vote next Monday, July 12.

Lowe's suffers another setback on Brodie Lane store

Sunset Valley, environmental groups win temporary injunction

Construction on a new Lowe's Home Improvement store on Brodie Lane has been put on hold again. State District Judge Scott Jenkins has granted a Temporary Injunction requested by the SOS Alliance, the City of Sunset Valley and the Save Barton Creek Association. The environmental groups claimed the agreement reached between Lowe's and the City of Austin, settling a lawsuit over development regulations, was in violation of the city's SOS Ordinance and that the construction work on the site had already caused environmental damage.

After a letter ruling earlier this year from Judge Lora Livingston in favor of the environmental groups' claims, the plaintiffs went to Judge Darlene Byrne for a Temporary Restraining Order to stop construction work on the site. During Thursday's hearing, attorneys Daniel Byrne and Stephen Adler argued that even though Livingston may have ruled against the City Council's settlement with Lowe's as a way around the SOS Ordinance, there were several other reasons the company should still be allowed to continue construction.

At the start of the hearing, Judge Jenkins urged both sides to present new arguments and new information not available to Judge Livingston. "I'm not going to revisit Judge Livingston's ruling," he said, noting that she had months to consider the evidence and arguments before making a decision in favor of the plaintiffs.

Byrne and Adler used much of their time making the case that the tract in question on Brodie Lane was exempt from the city's SOS Ordinance. House Bill 1204, they said, was written specifically to cover the situation facing Lowe's on that site in which the land was released from the City of Sunset Valley's extra-territorial jurisdiction. They also pointed to HB 1704, under which landowners are able to claim grandfathered rights based on the rules in place when they first file paperwork to initiate development. They also referenced action by the City of Austin in the late 1970s to specifically release the Brodie Lane tract from the city's ETJ and turn it over to Sunset Valley. Although Sunset Valley surrendered control over the property, Byrne and Adler argued that that did not automatically return it to Austin's ETJ. Lawyer David Frederick, representing Sunset Valley, pointed to the changes made in the City of Austin's boundaries in the years following the 1978 decision.

Both sides addressed the grandfathering claims that would come with the proper filing of a plat. Attorney Terry Irion was called as a witness by Lowe's to authenticate documents his firm had presented to Sunset Valley before the town yielded control over the land in November 2004. But the plaintiffs called Deputy City Administrator Jayme Foley, who testified that those applications had been rejected as administratively incomplete.

The plaintiffs used much of their time questioning engineer Lauren Ross, who testified that the construction plans would not meet the impervious cover limits set out by the SOS Ordinance. Furthermore, she said the construction site in its current condition was allowing runoff directly into a hole that was likely a recharge feature for the Edwards Aquifer. She based her testimony on a site visit made last week, in which she also noticed a characteristic "hydrocarbon sheen" on water at the site.

In his ruling, Judge Jenkins directed Lowe's to correct those conditions. He wrote, "Specifically, the Court finds it will be necessary that Lowe's ensure storm water runoff from the Property be diverted from flowing into aquifer recharge features at and adjoining the Property, that Lowe's remove fuel tanks from the Property, that Lowe's remove from the Property water contaminated by hydrocarbons and perform reasonable remediation of any hydrocarbon spills at the property." He set a bond for the plaintiffs at $50,000. Lowe's had requested a significantly higher amount, bringing in Dennis Stanfield from the company's Financial Planning and Analysis department to present information about the construction costs and estimated sales at the store. A similar store in Austin, he said, would generate about $30 million dollars each year in sales.

Representatives of SOS characterized the ruling as a victory. "Basically, this case is all but over as far as the trial court goes," said Brad Rockwell. "We'll be trying to collect attorneys fees . . . and maybe an injunction against the City of Austin to make sure they enforce the Save Our Springs Ordinance. The whole reason we're here with this is the City of Austin refused to enforce the SOS Ordinance on this site, and instead cut a deal with Lowe's." A trial has been set for September 6.

Short week . . . In Fact Daily has returned from vacation, but many board and commission members may still be enjoying an extended holiday. No city meetings are scheduled for today, although there are several on Wednesday’s calendar. The City Council will be on break until July 29 . . . Questions about the big box study . . . The new local advocacy group Full Circle announced yesterday that it would call for an independent review of the big box study presented to the City Council last month. Full Circle focuses on corporate responsibility, particularly in the wage and benefit arena. Board member Jack Kirfman said, “This really doesn't move us any closer to a true understanding of the costs vs. benefits to the city. We realize this is a complex subject, but we were frankly surprised by the lack of usable information in the study, especially when so much research is readily available" . . . RMA reaches agreement with Cedar Park . . . The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority has finalized its interlocal agreement with the City of Cedar Park. Cedar Park will not provide money under the agreement; instead, the city has agreed to provide right-of-way for US 183A. Besides the $2.2 billion toll road plan, CAMPO's Transportation Policy Board must also vote on a prioritized list of projects at next week's meeting. All the prioritized projects suggested by CAMPO stuff are along major roadways in the region: Interstate 35, Highway 71, US 290, Loop 1 and US 183.

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