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Manor area residents complain about toll plans

Friday, December 10, 2004 by

Environmental equity one bone of contention

About 100 people from East Travis County showed up last night to hear the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) outline its plans to turn a five-mile stretch of US 290 East into a six-lane tollway. Putting a toll along that stretch of road will mean that residents from Manor, Elgin and the surrounding area will have little choice but to take the toll road if they commute into Austin on a daily basis.

The stretch of highway that was the subject of the informational meeting is a 5.2-mile section from the intersection with US 183 to just past the intersection with the planned State Highway 130, about 1 mile west of Manor. TxDOT plans to turn the current road, which is a four-lane divided highway, into a six-lane toll road with two-lane, non-tolled access roads on either side.

Many of those who offered comments on the project said there was a need for an expanded roadway to handle the increase in traffic, but they were not happy with the prospect of paying a toll.

“We need traffic relief,” said Jim Lutz. “But there needs to be a different category of toll roads. Couldn’t there be a toll road that once it is paid for becomes a free road? We are in the vortex of the toll road universe. We are in the worst possible location here as far as being in Austin. We pay our gasoline taxes but now we’re going to be double taxed.”

Another person said toll roads were just another form of new taxes. “I have an objection to tolls and toll roads,” said Luther Hendrick. “I already pay about half of what I make on some form of taxes or another. Our Legislature needs to be getting rid of taxes, not coming up with new ones. The road (US 290) is our only means of getting into downtown Austin and it needs to be built, but the people who want to put tolls on them need to find a better way to pay for it.”

And another wanted what folks on the other side of town are getting. “We want some environmental justice,” said Joyce Sorensen, who lives in the Walnut Place subdivision. “We want noise abatement walls just like the people over on the west side of town. We deserve them here on the east side, too.”

TxDOT brought several key members of the team designing the roadway to speak at the meeting, including an environmental specialist, a highway design engineer and the director of right-of-way acquisition for the Austin District.

John Peel reviewed the environmental study that was originally done on the area back in 1990. He said a lot has changed since then. “The average traffic volume was 10,000 cars a day back in 1990,” he said. “It grew to 30,000 in 2001, and is projected I be between 38,000 and 54,000 by 2005. Without these improvements, traffic will rapidly exceed the capacity of the roadway.” Engineer Bob Harwood talked about the process of obtaining right-of-way for the project, emphasizing that TxDOT and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority follow strict state and federal guidelines in compensating landowners and businesses.

“If a homeowner has to move out their house, we will assist them in finding a comparable home, once an offer is made on their current property” he said. “We will pay moving expenses, plus any differential between the value of the new house and the old, and any differential if a less-advantageous mortgage is needed.”

TxDOT Public Information Officer John Hurt explained that comments taken at last night’s meeting, and written comments that will be taken through December 20, would be included in the agency’s plan that will be reviewed by the federal government. Once that plan gets preliminary approval, TxDOT will return to the area to hold a formal public hearing before proceeding with construction.

NYC scouting trip success, says Mayor

This week's trip to New York City by a delegation of 30 business and civic leaders was a success, say those who took part in the three-day mission to meet with corporate executives and corporate relocation specialists. Austin Mayor Will Wynn says the dozens of meetings have produced some promising leads from companies interested in what Austin has to offer.

"We've got three or four leads we're already working on," he said. "Everything from digital entertainment and a larger film studio presence here in town, to our classic big technological manufacturing sector, to other corporate facilities." During the trip, representatives from government, the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, and the University of Texas split into teams to meet with as many corporate decision makers and relocation advisors as possible. That included representatives of companies already doing business in Austin.

"We thank them for major investments and tell them how we want to retain and grow their jobs," said Wynn. That included a trip to the offices of Miramax, the movie studio that worked with director Robert Rodriguez on the "Spy Kids" films. But it also included stops to less glamorous businesses such as Ernst and Young, whose real estate group consults for several different businesses on issues related to site selection. "We told them what we're trying to do…how we have a lot of under-employed, highly-educated, highly-motivated people in this town," said the Mayor, "and if they bring a facility here or expand a facility here they're going to find quality workers and we think we can help them be more successful."

According to the Mayor, Austin's educated workforce was the key selling point stressed by the delegation. "All of the research that we've done show it's what is really striking a nerve with corporate America," he said. "Workforce was far and away the overarching message we kept sending to these folks."

This was the second trip to New York for business and civic leaders in the past 18 months. Wynn said the unified front presented by the public and private sector helps both groups achieve their goal of improving the economy, and predicted another trip in the not-too-distant future. "We want to do about one of these per year, because it's very effective for us," he concluded.

Leffingwell to announce early endorsements … Place 1 Council candidate Lee Leffingwell plans to release a list of 50 supporters in a press release later today. Leffingwell, who earned a reputation for building consensus during his five-year stint as chair of the city’s Environmental Board, gave us a sneak preview of the list, which includes environmental activists Shudde Fath, Mary Arnold, J im Marston, Marguerite Jones, Craig Smith and Robin Rather, as well as developers and business leaders including Steve Drenner, Beau Armstrong, Daron Butler, Perry Lorenz, Jerry Harris and Nikelle Meade. Leffingwell’s list also includes numerous politicos like Alfred Stanley, Ann Kitchen, Ora Houston, Robert Chapa and Channy Soeur. Two men who thought about running for Place 1 but decided against it, Planning Commission Chair Chris Riley and former Daryl Slusher aide Robin Cravey are also on the list. Consultants David Butts and Mark Nathan are running the campaign. Leffingwell’s web site is at . . . Moving day . . . As mentioned yesterday, the City Council, City Clerk and City Manager’s offices are being moved out of the Municipal Building on 8th Street and into the sparkling new City Hall. Most phones and emails will go unanswered until Monday, although the City Manager’s Office and Public Information Office will be answering their phones today . . . Progress Report… Bob Tesch, chair of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, told the board at its December meeting that the Comptroller’s audit of the CTRMA should be completed by year’s end … Office for US183A opening soon . . . Hill Country Constructors are setting up office space in anticipation of breaking ground on US 183A next March. Equity partners in HCC include Granite Construction Co. and J.D. Abrams L.P. HCC has leased space in the Riata Corporate Park off Riata Trace Parkway. The Comprehensive Development Agreement between HCC and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was signed this week…. Another way to help the needy . . . Next Tuesday, shoppers at Ten Thousand Villages will be able to help Meals on Wheels and More as well as buy holiday gifts that provide vital income to people in developing regions. A portion of all sales for the day will go directly to Meals on Wheels and More. Ten Thousand Villages, 1317 South Congress Avenue, offers handicrafts from around the world. Meals on Wheels and More delivers nutritious hot meals to more than 2,000 homebound elderly and disabled people each weekday and provides other services to help them live independently . . . Saturday: art in the park . . . Folks from around the community will be transforming Wooldridge Square Park into a living art installation from Noon to 4pm Saturday. Hosted by the Austin Museum of Art, the end result should be a once-in-a-lifetime look and feel for this historic park. The public is invited to particpate or simply watch the project, which will be dismantled at the end of the day. Artists will use natural materials, such as hay, to create the installation. To learn more about this event and other happenings at all of Downtown's historic parks, visit . . . Sunday at the Capitol . . . If you believe that last moth’s national election was tainted by ballot box shenanigans, head down to the Capitol at noon on Sunday for the “You Stole My Vote” 51 Capitol March. People will gather Sunday at all 50 state capitols and in Washington DC to protest election irregularities in Ohio and other states and support voting rights. Here in Austin, there will be a rally at the Capitol, then a march down Congress Avenue to the American Statesman. David Van Os will be the keynote speaker, along with radio show hosts Alex Jones and Pokey Anderson, and others. Check for more details.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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