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County panel to study SH 130 growth

Monday, January 9, 2006 by

At the request of Travis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, the Commissioners Court has directed Transportation and Natural Resources (TNR) Executive Director Joe Gieselman to suggest a subcommittee structured to tackle the growth issues surrounding State Highway 130.

The suggestion comes in the wake of Envision Central Texas’ State Highway 130 corridor summit in November. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 21, 2005) The goal, many at the meeting agreed, was to encourage potential development along the corridor without turning it into the worst of I-35. And as John Langmore of ECT pointed out, the dialogue to do that was beginning fairly late in the process, given that the first sections of the roadway will open in 2007.

Commissioners discussed committee appointments last week. From his comments, it was apparent that Davis’ saw the subcommittee as, first, a vehicle to strengthen the county’s actions along the corridor and, second, a piece of a bigger regional effort. Gieselman suggested that the subcommittee be modeled on the Clean Air Coalition, which deals with Central Texas efforts to meet federal clean air regulations.

“I think that it’s very appropriate, and I think it’s urgent that we give TNR some direction to come back to the court at some future date with plans for a SH 130 growth corridor subcommittee,” Davis said. “As you know, growth in this part of Travis County is very critical. I think we, as Travis County, need to have a strong significant role in the type of growth that will happen in this particular area.”

Davis pointed out that 35 miles of the SH 130 corridor pass through eastern Travis County. To the west, Commissioner Gerald Daugherty had his Southwest County Dialogue, a series of discussions with community members, local environmentalists and the development community to pace the growth in Western Travis County. This group, possibly driven by Commissioners Court, would deal with development issues to the east.

Daugherty pointed out that the Lower Colorado River Authority has spearheaded a SH 130 group with a broad coalition of jurisdictions along the route, from Georgetown to Creedmoor. It would be easy to “piggyback” county efforts on such a group.

Gieselman was instructed to bring back ideas for the potential structure and scope of such a subcommittee. County Judge Sam Biscoe also suggested the court schedule a March work session to update the entire commissioners’ court on SH 130 options and progress. Developers are probably well aware of the growth potential of the SH 130 corridor but local citizens are probably less informed, Biscoe said.

SH 130 actually passes through three commissioner precincts, Davis pointed out. Seven miles of the toll road will go through Precinct 2. Another 13 miles go through Precinct 4, and around 15 miles go through Precinct 1.

Bond panel may consider extra $200 million

New water, drainage projects could be added to current $614 million proposal

The Bond Election Advisory Committee (BEAC) will meet tonight and Tuesday night to put the finishing touches on the group’s final recommendations to the Austin City Council. In addition to making suggestions on the overall scope of the bond package and specific projects, the group is also likely to weigh in on how those projects should be grouped on the ballot and whether the election should be held in May or November.

While the committee’s discussions so far have focused on a total bond package amount of $614 million, Committee Member Dave Sullivan is urging members to consider recommending another $200 million in revenue bonds—as opposed to general obligation bonds—for specific drainage or water and wastewater projects.

At a subcommittee meeting on Friday, Sullivan outlined how those bonds could be used for projects in the SH 130 corridor without affecting the city’s property tax rate in the same way that general obligation bonds would. Revenue bonds are tied to specific projects, and repayment of those bonds would be the responsibility of the utility department responsible for those projects.

Sullivan’s suggestion is in response to concerns voiced by Mayor Will Wynn that the bond package may not have enough projects to help the city deal with growth along SH 130, which is expected to draw major commercial and residential development when the first leg opens. Sullivan suggested the amount of $200 million for drainage and water/wastewater projects as a placeholder while the committee recommended the Council order a full study of the infrastructure needs along SH 130, along with the estimated costs of those projects.

Some members of the BEAC may be reluctant to make changes to their final recommendation of the magnitude suggested by Sullivan at this stage in the process. “I just can’t even have this conversation without some kind of proposal, something that says that these are the projects we’re taking about, this is the needs assessment,” said Robin Rather, who argued against using any placeholder figures. “I feel like the chamber and the Mayor and the SH 130 people should be able to come up with something.”

Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce

representative Roger Mitchell had spoken at the BEAC’s public hearing last week, urging the committee to set aside $50 million for new east-west roads to connect to SH 130. “We support Mayor Wynn’s concept of investment in the SH 130 corridor,” he said. “We feel like the initial step of creating infrastructure within the corridor needs to take place within the structure of this bond election.”

At the time, Rather pressed him for more specifics, including how the chamber had arrived at the $50 million amount, but Mitchell responded that he did not have specific documentation to present at that time.

At Friday’s subcommittee meeting, Committee Member Jim Walker pointed out that the BEAC was dealing not only with the Mayor’s requests but requests from hundreds of interested citizens and dozens of community groups. “We’re not ignoring the importance of the SH 130 corridor, but we are also not going to ignore the priorities and the needs that we’ve been hearing about from citizens for the past few months,” he said.

Those priorities were on display at Thursday’s public hearing, which drew more comments in support of funding for the Asian American Resource Center and the Mexic-Arte Museum. There was also a strong turnout from new constituent groups who had not testified at the previous public hearing. Those included supporters of funding for the Zachary Scott Theatre and funding for two new bike trails ( http://www.biketexas.org).

Supporters of the Austin Public Library also turned out to argue for including $90 million or more for a new Central Library, and to defend the project from criticism by some speakers that a downtown library was a luxury, not a necessity. Several speakers who called for more funding for affordable housing suggested that money for that need could come from the $90 million the committee had tentatively earmarked for a new Central Library. The committee’s draft recommendation calls for $67.5 million in bonds for affordable housing, which is more than the placeholder amount originally suggested by city staff for that category.

Environmentalist, educator Sue Johnson, 65

Environmentalist Karen Sue Johnson—Sue to her friends—former president of board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD), died on December 27. Johnson, who was 65, was the wife of former Wimberley Alderman Walter Brown, who died in October. Both succumbed to cancer.

She is survived by her children, Benjamin and Austin Brown; parents Fred and Daisy Johnson; sister Kristen Johnson; grandchildren, Alexander Sebastian, Audie, and Christian, as well as her daughter-in-law, Noorlaila Murad-Brown.

Johnson, who had a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas, was a member of the faculty of Texas State University in San Marcos at the time of her death. Earlier in her life, Johnson taught at the University of Kentucky, the University of Arkansas, Quinnipiac College in Connecticut, and St Edwards University. Her publications focused on her passions — environmental and natural resource issues and sustainable development.

BSEACD Board Member Jack Goodman, who served with Johnson, said, “She really does deserve a lot of credit for keeping the conservation district going,” through its most difficult years, 1990-1998. Johnson was board secretary from May of 1990 through June of 1996, when she was elected president. She then led the board until her retirement in May of 1998.

Johnson’s longtime friend Ginny Ballard, observed, “Sue was a holistic environmentalist. She not only cared about our physical environment she was equally concerned about the human one. She measured her community by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.”

Johnson dedicated much of her life to managing local non-profit organizations, including the Texas Organic Growers Association, the Austin Rape Crisis Center and the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Johnson also served on the City of Austin Board of Adjustment from 1987 to 1991 and on the Travis County Task Force on the Environment. Before moving permanently to Central Texas, Johnson served as director of research for the Arkansas Department of Energy under then Governor Bill Clinton. She liked to say that people could “do well by doing good.”

More recently, Johnson served as Chairman of the Board of Adjustment for the Village of Wimberley. She was also an active member of the South Austin Democrats, Wimberley Democrats, and the Hays County Democrats.

Her family recalls that she was consistent in valuing experiences over possessions. They say her environmental concerns were instinctive, as was her insistence on equality amongst different sexes, races, religions, and orientations. Johnson recognized and appreciated the unique personalities of each and every one of her many cats. She had a green thumb, and her family grew up surrounded by many beautiful plants and gardens.

A reception celebrating Sue’s life will be held at the Historic Wimberley Winters House next to the Wimberley Visitors Center from 3-6pm today. Directions to the Wimberley Winters House may be found at http://www.visitwimberley.com/center/winters.shtml.

The family asks that contributions be made in lieu of flowers to the following local institutions: Wimberley Institute of Cultures, PO Box 167 Wimberley, TX 78676 or Friends of Blue Hole C/O The Village of Wimberly, PO Box 2027, Wimberley, TX 78676

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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