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Board approves CAMPO 2030 Plan

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 by

CAMPO may reconsider tolls after studies are completed

The Transportation Policy Board of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted last night to give itself another year to study the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s toll plan without stopping the toll authority from continuing its work.

Such a move was met with wild applause from toll road opponents in the audience. In a motion that was a joint effort of Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken and Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, the Transportation Policy Board agreed to an amendment that would re-visit the toll plan in a year – or sooner, if data is available – once more information is available from a City of Austin study, Envision Central Texas and Liveable City. At that point, the Transportation Policy Board could choose to amend the CAMPO 2030 plan.

Bill Spelman with Liveable City said further study was sorely needed. “I think it's about time the CAMPO Board acknowledged that this plan is badly flawed,” he said. “After spending $22 billion over the next 25 years, we're still talking about three times as many roads that are going to be heavily congested. This is a very badly flawed plan, and the CAMPO Board this evening recognized that and suggested to staff they need to go back to the drawing board and fix it.”

CTRMA Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein did not consider the vote a setback to the agency’s efforts. Local officials want a level of comfort that tolls are a “last resort” to provide local roads and that all other options such as managed lanes and basic roadway expansion have been considered. Heiligenstein said the CTRMA welcomes that scrutiny.

“We’ll be doing our own revenue and projection studies on all of those roads over the next year,” Heiligenstein said. “The study that we’re going to do is going to be much larger than the City of Austin’s study. We could probably pull the City of Austin’s study into ours. And we’re certainly going to offer our findings to the board.”

The revenue and projection studies will assess the viability of each of the remaining toll road projects, as well as the impact of those toll roads on the intersecting arterials. This will take at least a year, and no bonds will be sold before the study is completed, Heiligenstein said. A similar study on US 183A took about nine months.

While toll roads were the focus of the vote, they were already part of an amended CAMPO long-range plan. Last night’s vote simply added another 5 years to the CAMPO 2025 plan, updating the plan for the expansion of the CAMPO service area, the projection of another 500,000 citizens and the inclusion of Cap Metro’s All Systems Go plan. The total price tag on the plan is estimated at $22 billion from all revenue sources.

Bruce Byron, Executive Director, Capital Area Transportation Coalition, said getting the 2030 plan in place was necessary. “One of the reasons you call it a planning process is that it's an evolutionary journey to get from people's opinions to actual plans to projects on the ground,” he said. “I think this evening was an opportunity to bring more people together to agree on a single approach to how we're going to do this. Although the CAMPO plan is amendable at almost any time, it's critical that we have a current plan. If we have an expired plan, the feds will not provide us with any new project approvals, which would bring some of our budding projects to a screeching halt.”

But while Heiligenstein was comfortable with the study, some members of the CAMPO board were not. Outgoing board member Daryl Slusher said he had only one vote left on the CAMPO 2030, and he was not comfortable voting for a plan with toll roads, even if those toll roads were going to be the subject of increased scrutiny.

“I don’t have a year to wait. I have to vote on what’s before us tonight, and I can’t support it with the Phase 2 toll road plan in there,” Slusher said. “To me, I really think this makes no sense, just like it makes no sense to expand Loop 360 to eight lanes. It’s for that reason, and other things in this plan, that I can’t support it. It’s not consistent with my vision for the region into the future and more important, it’s not consistent with the citizens’ vision, from Envision Central Texas back to the Austin Tomorrow plan.”

Reps. Terry Keel (R-Austin), Todd Baxter (R-Austin), Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin) joined Slusher on his “nay” vote against the toll road plan. All five of them voted against the toll road plan in earlier votes.

State Rep. Todd Baxter said the move to further study was the right one. “Rep. Keel could not be here tonight. Both of us feel that the McCracken and Biscoe amendments as they've turned out represent meaningful progress in addressing the serious questions about the fundamental assumptions underlying the Phase 2 toll plan,” he said. “We welcome this objective, independent review as well as the public verbal assurances made from the dais tonight, that no irreversible actions will be taken to implement tolls on any of the Phase 2 projects before the study is completed and additional vote is taken by the CAMPO Board on the toll plan later.”

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty voted for the CAMPO 2030 plan – calling it long overdue a step forward from the CAMPO 2025 plan – but used the vote to offer a stump speech on Capital Metro funding. The region needs to get the “greatest bang for the buck,” he said, yet it continues to devote 30 percent of its funding to Capital Metro. Capital Metro, even after a $6.5 billion infusion of new funding, will still serve less than 1 percent of the passenger miles in the region.

Sal Costello with the Austin Toll Party saw the move as progress for his group. “I most appreciated the five that voted 'no'”, he said. ” 'No', because there are tolls on our freeways and they said that while we like the amendments, this is unacceptable. That was fantastic. But I see how it passed, and with the amendment that's there, I see how there is more progress going our way and I think the community needs to stay involved, needs to get more involved. “

In other amendments to the plan, the Transportation Policy Board agreed to take 38½ Street and Manor Road out of the expansion plan, as requested by the Cherrywood and Blackland neighborhoods. The board also adopted an amendment, offered by Mayor Will Wynn, to support a more stringent interpretation of bicycle/pedestrian funding, saying that jurisdictions are required to make every effort to offer bike/ped alternatives, except in such cases where those alternatives are infeasible.

Court dismisses suit over Monaghan settlement

Sunset Valley, ACCORD had sued over property at MoPac and Slaughter

State District Judge Lora Livingston has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a coalition of neighborhood groups against the City of Austin and James Monaghan that questioned the validity of a 1996 lawsuit settlement over Monaghan’s grandfathering claims over a controversial tract of land. She also denied legal standing to the City of Sunset Valley, which had intervened on the side of the coalition.

Monaghan’s company, SR Ridge Ltd. Partnership, owns the tract at the corner of Slaughter Lane and MoPac Blvd., once the site of a proposed Wal-Mart store and long a source of controversy. In the mid-1990s, the City of Austin tried to enforce the SOS Ordinance on the tract, which is in the recharge zone of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. The city settled the suit in early 1996 without the six-member majority needed to amend the SOS Ordinance. An appellate court has not ruled on whether that part of the ordinance applies to lawsuit settlements.

Last August, ACCORD (Austin Community Coalition for Responsible Development), which includes five neighborhood groups, the Save Barton Creek Association and the Sierra Club, sued Monaghan, SR Ridge and the City of Austin, hoping to invalidate the settlement agreement. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 3, 2004.) At the time, John Robert Stratton, president of ACCORD, called the settlement agreement “absolutely unenforceable.” Stratton, who personally intervened in the suit, also said he expected a court to rule that both the SOS Ordinance and the Big Box Ordinance apply to the tract.

Judge Livingston sent a letter to attorneys for the parties on Friday announcing that she had granted a summary judgement to the City of Austin, SR Ridge and Monaghan. Her letter states that ACCORD’s claims, as well as Stratton’s, are barred by the state’s four-year statute of limitations. The judge also ruled that Sunset Valley, which is not subject to the statute of limitations, does not have a “justiciable interest.” The smaller city had argued that it should be allowed to intervene because it did have an interest in the matters to be decided.

Tom Buckle, whose firm, Scanlon Buckle & Young, represents Sunset Valley, said he did not know what decision the city would make about appealing the matter. “Normally a city would not have standing to get involved with another city’s business,” Buckle said. However, Sunset Valley argued that it should be allowed to intervene “to protect its own water quality from the runoff that would come from that development,” he added.

Buckle said Jessica Scott in his firm handled the case. He did not know whether Sunset Valley would appeal.

SR Ridge had sued the city and Stratus Properties after Wal-Mart announced its decision not to build on the tract. After several months of discovery, the property owner non-suited the case, noted Assistant City Attorney Laurie Eiserloh. Shortly after that, ACCORD sued the city, SR Ridge and Monaghan. Stratton said he and his group had not made a decision on whether to appeal the decision.

Eiserloh said she and the other attorneys argued summary judgement motions in mid-May. At the time, she said, the judge “ordered us to mediation within 30 days.” However, that order was superceded by the orders granting summary judgement, since there is now nothing to mediate. Judge Livingston also granted the request by Monaghan and SR Ridge to make the plaintiffs pay their attorneys fees. Eiserloh said the City of Austin did not request attorneys’ fees.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Final CAMPO meeting for Slusher . . . Monday night's CAMPO meeting was the last for Council Member Daryl Slusher. State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos recognized his service as the meeting came to a close. "It is difficult to hold public office. There are a lot of demands. Sometimes it's a trip, but sometimes it's sadness," he said. "Everyone give Daryl Slusher a big round of applause!" Council Member Betty Dunkerley and C ouncil Member-elect Lee Leffingwell were in the audience at the meeting. Council candidate Margot Clarke was also there. Her supporters handed out literature and met with prospective voters in the lobby . . . Early voting ends today . . . Today is the final day to cast ballots early for the Saturday Place 3 City Council runoff election. All voting locations except malls and mobile voting booths will be open from 7am to 7pm. As of last night, 3.3 percent or 13,476 votes had been cast. The vast majority of voters seem disinterested in this election. Some folks who watch politics for a living expect a negative attack within a day or two . . . Council meets with AISD board . . . The joint subcommittees meeting of City Council and AISD board members is scheduled to meet at 11:30am today at the AISD board auditorium, 1111 W. 6th Street . . . ZAP meets tonight . . .The commission has a heavy agenda, with 21 zoning cases plus action on a variety of subdivision matters to consider. They will meet at 6pm in City Council chambers . . . Other meetings . . . The RMMA Implementation Commission is set to meet at 6pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. Despite a light agenda, those attending may have an interesting conversation on the possible impact of Catellus’ merger with ProLogis, another large property developer. ProLogis is paying $4.9 billion for Catellus. According to a company press release, Senior VP Greg Weaver will continue to lead redevelopment of Mueller . . . The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee will meet in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall at 6pm . . . Transportation talk . . . The Texas Department of Transportation will hold an open house at the ACC Pinnacle campus in Oak Hill from 11am to 7pm to discuss proposed improvements at the “ Y” in Oak Hill. Oak Hill residents have expressed strong reservations about the improvements to the intersection of US 290 and SH 71. Last night, District Engineer Bob Daigh offered to schedule a second evening meeting to given even more people a chance to respond to TxDOT’s proposed plans.

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