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Toll road foes continue complaints as numbers dwindle

Tuesday, December 14, 2004 by

CAMPO likely to remove William Cannon Bridge from plan next month

Toll road opponents broke little new ground last night as the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization indicated it would consider removing the William Cannon bridge from the $2.2 billion Central Texas Toll Road Plan.

CAMPO staff booked the auditorium at the LBJ School of Public Affairs last night in anticipation of a crowd. The turnout, however, was probably less than 100 people. About 50 people chose to speak – some more than once on different agenda items – and all but five of them were opposed to the region’s toll road plan. The CAMPO board will not take a vote on the amendment until next month.

Sal Costello, who organized the Austin Toll Party, took the chance to speak to the CAMPO board three times on three different agenda items. During his presentation, Costello said the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) sold its toll road plan as something that would relieve congestion, yet the CTRMA could not prove the toll roads would address the issue.

“When TxDOT and the CTRMA came to all our neighborhoods to present this concept, they talked about how Austin had the worst traffic congestion in the country for a medium-sized city, so they have a congestion relief proposal,” Costello said. “But the king has no clothes. There is no congestion relief study for what was voted on, no economic impact study, no cost-benefits study. The CTRMA has spent $1.5 million on marketing, but no study was shown to this CAMPO board.”

Council Member Brewster McCracken also led District Engineer Bob Daigh through a series of questions about who should assume the cost of maintaining state roads. McCracken forced Daigh to agree that it was the state’s responsibility to pay for state road maintenance, but Daigh was quick to point out that Central Texas would have no new roads to maintain if the CTRMA didn’t step forward to pay for them. Without tolls, the state was being asked “to stretch its meager resources out much farther,” Daigh said.

McCracken said it didn’t look like a whole lot was left in the toll road plan once the “fully funded” portions of MoPac, US 183 and State Highway 71 were pulled out of the toll road plan. Daigh disagreed with McCracken’s assessment.

“There’s a significant amount of construction,” Daigh said, citing the roads. “Instead of getting bits and pieces over a long period of time, we’re able to get roads built as fast as we can acquire the right-of-way and get them under construction. I think there’s a significant difference with the plan.”

Costello presented a written presentation of 15 points why the July toll road vote by CAMPO should be rescinded. Those reasons included what he called a lack of studies – which TxDOT District Engineer Bob Daigh denied – as well as pointing out gas tax revenues were on the rise, accusing the CTRMA of being “unbridled” and calling toll funding inefficient. He and others also asked CAMPO to stop the plan, given that the Legislature was likely to make changes to House Bill 3588 in the coming session.

Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), author of HB 3588 and chair of the House Transportation Committee, was not at last night’s session. CTRMA Chair Bob Tesch serves as his proxy. Soon-to-be former Rep. Jack Stick (R-Austin) was not at the meeting. Proxies represented Reps. Terry Kee l (R-Austin) and Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), as well as Sen. Steve Ogden (R-Bryan). Commissioners Karen Sonleitner and Gerald Daugherty left the meeting early because of an annual bond-rating trip to New York City on Tuesday.

The crowd was getting what it wanted but most members of the audience were unhappy anyway. The most common complaint was that the CTRMA was turning tax-funded roads into toll roads, although the toll road plan was intended to pay for roads that had yet to be funded by the state and that only additional capacity on roads will be tolled. Existing capacity on roads like US 183 will remain intact and commuters will be able to continue to take the existing roads, most with lights.

Costello asserted that toll road authorities were highly inefficient. He said studies indicate that roads can be built for $1.6 million per mile, compared to $30.5 million per mile for State Highway 130. Richard Ridings, consulting engineer to the CTRMA, said $1.6 million would probably get a farm-to-market road built. Back in 1984, elevating and extending Research Boulevard cost $20 million per mile. Now, that kind of right-of-way through the urban core of a city is even more costly, Ridings said.

Capital Metro hires LAN, Inc. for rail, rapid bus work

Capital Metro's Board of Directors on Monday officially designated the commuter rail route approved by voters in November as the agency's preferred transit alternative for the corridor between Leander and Austin. The Board also selected a consulting firm to handle management of the " All Systems Go" plan, which includes the start-up of commuter rail service and implementation of rapid bus service on selected routes.

Houston-based Lockwood, Andrews, and Newnam, Inc. (LAN) won the bid for the $8 million contract, which covers a period of five years. The firm, which offers engineering, architectural and project management services, has offices in Austin and has done work for Houston Metro and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency. "LAN will be performing as an extension of our staff," said Capital Metro Project Director John Almond, "managing all of the planning, design and construction projects we have for commuter rail and rapid bus."

Capital Metro Board Members urged Almond and LAN to include as many minority-owned firms as possible in the contracting process. LAN has pledged to meet the goal of 13 percent participation by firms certified under Capital Metro's DBE program. "We certainly encourage more if possible," said Board Member John Treviño, "so that we can have our local citizens also be the beneficiary of these big contracts. We would encourage you very, very strongly in the sprit of Christmas to be generous, and as far as Capital Metro is concerned, it's Christmas all year round."

By essentially contracting out much of the work on the "All Systems Go" plan, Capital Metro will be able to implement the commuter rail and rapid bus service more quickly than by solely using in-house personnel. "This allows us to provide the bodies and staff to do that," said Almond. "The big benefit is we can bring them on very quickly. If we had to hire full-time staff, the process of doing that is very lengthy." To begin commuter rail service by early 2008, LAN will have to upgrade the existing tracks, build some new tracks, and build up to nine train stations for passengers along the route between Leander and the Austin Convention Center. The agency has already identified likely areas for some of those stations, but no sites have been selected.

The Board's action to name the commuter rail line as the Locally Preferred Alternative mode for the northwest corridor, while a formality, was necessary for the project to be eligible for federal transportation grant funding. The commuter rail line must also be included by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) for inclusion in that agency's long-range transportation plan before federal officials will consider allocating funds for the project. CAMPO's Transportation Policy Board held a public hearing on that last night and will vote on including the rail line in the CAMPO 2025 Transportation Plan at their next meeting on January 24.

Bull Creek variances move forward

Despite a staff recommendation against it, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted last week to recommend granting a waiver and two variances to allow construction of a dentist’s office on FM 2222 in the West Bull Creek watershed.

Potter Dentistry would be built on a 4.724 acre site that has a steep grade, with a rise of more than 100 feet between the front and the rear of the lot. The property has two plateaus, one where the dentist proposes to build a new one-story office and another where he will build an additional building for lease to another tenant.

City staff had recommended granting a waiver to decrease the roadway buffer from 100 feet to 50 feet due the topography of the area. They had also recommended approval of an environmental variance with conditions to allow construction on slopes, but had recommended disapproval of a second variance for the project to exceed the allowable impervious cover in the Water Quality Transition Zone (WQTZ). In November, the Environmental Board recommended conditional approval of both the waivers.

Planning staff member Sue Welch told the Commission that the decision to recommend against the waiver was based on the project’s plan to exceed the allowable amount of impervious cover. “They are asking for 27 percent impervious cover in their site plan,” Welch said. “The maximum allowable in the Water Quality Transition Zone is 18 percent. We believe that the site can be developed within the 18 percent limit.”

Consultant Jim Bennett, representing owners Tom Beard and James Potter, told the Commission that the staff’s objections were based on technical points. “The Environmental Board does not make these decisions lightly,” he said. “Our plans call for drainage facilities that capture 100 percent more runoff that the ordinance requires.” Bennett also noted that several improvements have been made to FM 2222 since the WQTZ maps were created, possibly shifting the boundaries of the zone.

Two people spoke against the project. Ed King, president of the Long Canyon Phase 1 Homeowners Association, was concerned about traffic flowing in and out of the business. “We don’t need any additional traffic on Bell Mountain Road,” he said. The traffic will be forced to exit out on to a very narrow street.” Also speaking was area resident Joe Corrapta, who has concerns about the affect the office would have on traffic in the area.

The ZAP voted to recommend approval of the request for the waiver and variances, with the following conditions: all cut/fill to structurally contained; all replacement trees to be Class 1 trees; all COA required landscaping to utilize Grow Green Native or adaptive materials; provide an integrated pest management plan; and prohibit the use of coal-tar based sealants on the parking lot. The voted was 6-2, with members John Donisi and Janis Pinnelli opposed.

Settling in . . . The newest denizens of the Austin’s nifty new City Hall—the City Council, City Clerk and City Manager’s employees—spent a lot of time Monday unpacking the boxes they filled last week back in the old building. Pretty much everybody expressed satisfaction with their new offices, although some of those with a lake view are wishing they had blinds. As explained to In Fact Daily, the budget did not include that particular item. But enough complaints from those in high places could mean some rearranging of funds before summer hits and the sun gets more intense . . . And the winner is . . . The office of Council Member Brewster McCracken wins the prize for quickest unpacking and hanging of art. In defense of his colleagues in other offices, aide Rich Bailey pointed out that his boss has only been in office for a year and a half, whereas Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman has had more than 11 years to collect reports, files and mementos of her life in public office . . . Sad duty . . . There is an announcement on the City of Austin’s web site that Thursday’s Council meeting will be in recess from approximately noon to 3pm to allow City Council members to attend the funeral of Austin Police Department Commander Shauna Jacobson and retired Detective Malcolm “Kurt” Jacobson. Both were killed in a motorcycle accident this weekend . . . Happening tonight . . . The Planning Commission will meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. The Airport Advisory Commission is set to meet in Room 160 of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 5pm and the Resource Management Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm at 811 Barton Springs Road in Room 309. The Parks and Recreation Board will hold its annual retreat in the department’s board room, 200 S. Lamar . . . Democrats partying tonight . . . The Travis County Democratic Party combined holiday party for all Democratic clubs, activists and elected officials is Tuesday night from 5:30pm to 8:30pm at Threadgill's World Headquarters, 301 W. Riverside Dr. Attendees are being asked to bring a canned good or non-perishable item to donate to Austin area food banks.

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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