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Travis, Hays at odds over Brodie Lane

Thursday, May 4, 2006 by

Residents of both Hays and Travis counties packed Commissioners Court on Tuesday to talk about the traffic on Brodie Lane and whether the road should be closed. But the bigger issue that emerged was the fact that congestion is heavy due to delays in construction of State Highway 45 Southwest, which is behind schedule.

County commissioners will make a decision whether to close Brodie Lane at the county line on May 16. Local residents say that traffic has become so heavy as to be dangerous, especially as children try to cross the street to the local elementary school. Joe Gieselman, executive manager of Transportation and Natural Resources, says that Brodie Lane can carry its current traffic load, but that load is going to get worse.

"Brodie can carry 20,000 cars a day, but it’s also not designed to carry that type of traffic and, over time, that’s likely to get worse," Gieselman said. "In an area that is truly growing, there is a mismatch between land use and increased growth and capacity of the arterial roadway network to accommodate that growth."

This week, the court took three hours of testimony from Travis County residents in favor of closing the road and Hays County residents opposed to the closing because it presents one of the few outlets to MoPac. Needless to say, commissioners appeared more sympathetic to their own constituents, but County Judge Jim Powers, Commissioner Will Conley and Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) reinforced the Hays County views. Powers asked Travis County officials to try to avoid closing, or blocking, the road.

Gieselman said congestion stems from two problems: the decision not to construct Frate Barker Road; and the Texas Department of Transportation’s delays in constructing SH45 Southwest, which connects Loop 1 to FM 1626. Hays County already is adding pass-through tolling as a way to expand capacity onto FM 1626.

Don Nyland, who oversees the project, said TxDOT was being especially careful about its environmental study of the SH 45 SW route, given the Save Our Springs Alliance litigation over SH 45 SE, which would connect from Interstate 35 to State Highway 130.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty pressed Nyland to put a time frame on the delay to the project because of the lawsuit. Nyland would only say that the lawsuit had extended the environmental study, as TxDOT takes extra time and effort to address concerns.

Commissioner Will Conley said Hays County was just as environmentally sensitive as Travis County, but there was moderation in everything. Hays County is frustrated, Conley said, that groups like the Save Our Springs Alliance were willing to use the endangered species act to handcuff the county. Some of the local residents’ frustrations, Conley said, should be directed at the SOS Alliance.

Commissioner Karen Sonleitner expressed her concern about the delays of SH45, especially given the fact that voters approved bonds for the project in 1997. Improvements on other roads in the area, such as Manchaca, also have been delayed. Gieselman went so far as to suggest that perhaps the county could provide front-end funding for a two-lane SH 45 SW if construction delays continued.

Closing Brodie Lane to protect traffic in the local subdivision is only a short-term solution, Gieselman said. Brodie remains one of the few north-south routes through the area, especially out of Hays County, where at least 10 new subdivisions had been approved by the local government entities. A total of 2,000 lots are under construction along the corridor, with further projects to the south, Gieselman said.

Water commissioners still prefer WTP#4

After taking its hour-long PowerPoint presentation on options for replacing the Green Water Treatment Plant into hostile territories such as the city’s Parks and Recreation and Environmental boards, the Austin Water Utility met Wednesday night with a more receptive audience, the Water and Wastewater Commission.

Commission members, who had been solidly behind building the Water Treatment Plant #4 near Lake Travis two years ago, seemed to still favor that option, asking why there was any need to replace the Green facility.

"I wish we could have just gotten this (WTP #4) done two years ago when we had it ready to go," said Commissioner Glen Coleman. "We’re spending millions of dollars and a lot of hydrocarbons to pump water uphill. It doesn’t make any sense."

City officials were poised to begin preliminary engineering design of WTP #4, which was approved for construction by a city bond election in the mid 1980s, when those plans were sidetracked by the Environmental Board. Members of that board balked at approving the site because of its location next to sensitive lands in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, and potential problems with digging a five-mile long intake tunnel from Lake Travis.

Work on that project ground to a halt and the City Council ordered the AWU to conduct a study to find alternate sites to the 103-acres set aside near FM 620 and RM 2222. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 4, 2005)

AWU Director Chris Lippe outlined the same options for replacing Green’s capacity as he laid out for City Council members last week, noting that projections show the city will need an additional 25 million gallons per day (MGD) of treatment capacity on-line by mid-2011.

WWW Chair Michael Warner asked why, if the current Green plant on Cesar Chavez was capable of treating 35 MDG was there a need to build a new plant at another site that would only produce 25 MDG.

Lippe explained that the 82-year-old Green plant had outlived its usefulness and needed to be decommissioned. But Warner persisted, asking why a new plant could not be built on the same location. Lippe explained that a modern plant could not be built on the six- acre site if the recommended 150-foot security barrier were established.

Coleman asked why not build just one plant, specifically WTP #4, with enough capacity for future needs, and not build a new Green facility at all?

"At one time we had a scenario where we would be building the WTP #4 with as much as 600 MDG capacity," said Lippe. "But concerns grew about that plant, and now the Council has directed us to look at Green first. It does make economic sense to look at building Green first to give us a plant on the east side to handle the growth out there."

Commissioner Leslie Pool agreed. "There will be more demand for water on the East side," she said. "The water would have to be pumped much further from the Lake Travis area. We need a plant near the area where the development is going to occur."

Lippe said that consultants plan to makes presentations to the City Council in the next few weeks on how conservation efforts could cut into the city’s future water needs, and on a list of alternative locations for WTP #4.

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

Libertarian v. Republican . . . While politics makes strange alliances, it also creates some strange animosities. Take for example, Republican Carl Tepper and Libertarian Wes Benedict. Benedict is running for the Place 2 City Council seat against Mike Martinez and Eliza May, both Democrats. At this point, no rational political observer would bet on Benedict to win, but he offers a decidedly different point of view from his more liberal opponents. However, Tepper and other Republicans decided to exclude Benedict from participating in this week’s Republican Club of Austin forum. Benedict protested in an email to Tepper, saying, "Had I participated in the Austin Republican forum, I would have made it clear that I was the only candidate for lower taxes, the only candidate against the street car plan, the only candidate against Proposition 6, the only candidate against raising property taxes to pay for land set asides in West Austin, and the only candidate against raising everyone's property taxes to subsidize low cost housing for a relatively few beneficiaries in East Austin." Tepper responded, "Wes needs to understand that he is not a serious candidate. (He) adds nothing of substance or influence to the debate about important community issues; and is in fact considered by many to be a pariah in the community. Sure, there are other reasons. This is politics after all and in this case I'm happy to admit them: Wes has sued many of our friends in the business community, friends who are working and investing vigorously to build a reasonable city council that is at least fiscally conservative, or at least as fiscally "conservative" as we can get in Austin. His suing RECA, the Police Association, Betty Dunkerley etc., adds up to just nuisance politics. You're not doing us a favor by suing these people Wes. So, why should we extend any favors to you?" Benedict has not sued Dunkerley, although he has filed complaints with the Texas Ethics Commission about her campaign finance reports . . . Benedict points out that he won more than 18 percent of the vote last year, coming in second out of five, when he ran against Dunkerley. Benedict, of course, could make a bigger difference this year by throwing the two Hispanic candidates into a runoff . . . More robocalls . . . Folk singer Eliza Gilkyson sent out the latest in a series of automated calls urging voters to support Propositions 1 and 2 on the May 13 ballot . . . Moving on . . . Veronica Briseño Lara, aide to Council Member Raul Alvarez will be leaving her current post on Friday. Briseño will become an administrative manager in the Small & Minority Business Resources Department. Administrative assistant Elaine Diaz will take over Briseño’s duties and Lisa Clifton will be joining Alvarez’ staff as he finishes his term . . . Latino music month . . . Council Member Raul Alvarez and organizers of Latino Music Month will make an announcement at 9am today at the City Hall, Boards and Commissions Room, formally kicking off Latino Music Month. The City Council has declared the month of May as "Latino Music Month", encouraging club owners, live music venues, and the general public to support Latino music and artists this month. More information may be found at . . . Early Voting . . . Numbers are solid after three days of early voting in the May 13 election. According to the Travis County Elections Division, just over 1 percent of registered voters, 5,680 people, have cast ballots thus far. Not all of the early ballots are being cast in the Austin Council and Charter Amendment elections, however. Voters piling into the Randalls on Bee Cave are casting ballots in hotly-contested Mayor and Council races in West Lake Hills and Rollingwood as well as $58 million in bonds for Eanes ISD. Voters in Pflugerville, Lago Visa and Leander are also considering Council races . . . Metro 8 . . . The Metro 8 Chambers of Commerce, which includes the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, Greater Houston Partnership and the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, will make an announcement regarding the Texas Tax Reform Commission’s Plan. The news conference is planned for 2 pm on the south steps of the State Capitol . . . Making a point . . . Texas Campaign for the Environment and Austin Green Art have collaborated to present a striking art piece made from electronic waste to the delegates at the World Congress on Information Technology yesterday. The lizard-like figure with a globe-head decorated with pieces of electronic waste was designed to remind delegates attending a dinner at the WCIT that the digital age has resulted in more than a billion pounds of electronic waste. The art’s creators say it is designed to send the message that much electronic waste is illegally shipped from rich countries to poor ones, processed unsafely in prisons, or put in landfills or incinerators where toxins are not well contained.

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