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CAMPO working on growth, land use

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 by

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is putting the "planning" part of its name to work as it develops a new Regional Growth Concept for the five-county area. Working with Envision Central Texas, the project is designed to coordinate transportation and land use policies across the region to best accommodate a projected population of 2.75 million by the year 2030.

At a workshop at the UT Thompson Conference Center last night, CAMPO officials laid out a program of encouraging "focused growth" around so called activity centers, which can be as large as Downtown Austin or as small the city of Buda.

CAMPO Senior Planner Stevie Greathouse said despite the range in size, activity centers would all have many of the same characteristics.

"In activity centers, the growth will be more intense than other areas, they will have a mix of uses, will have walkable areas, and will be tailored to the local area," she said. "They will provide additional housing options, additional employment and additional retail opportunities closer to where people live."

Activity centers (Greathouse said they are open to suggestions a better name for them) come in three basic sizes—large, medium and small:

• Downtown Austin is the only large center in the five county area, containing between 100,000 and 500,000 people, and 200,000 and 300,000 jobs;

• Areas such as Round Rock, Bastrop, San Marcos and the North Burnet Gateway are considered medium activity centers, with 9,000 to 75,000 people and 9,000 to 40,000 jobs; and

• Small activity centers include small towns such as Buda, Cedar Park and Manor, as well as neighborhoods such as Oak Hill and Highland Mall. These areas generally have between 1,000 and 10,000 people and 1,500-to 10,000 jobs.

The idea, according to CAMPO Executive Director Michael Aulick, is to coordinate transportation planning – both in terms of roadways and mass transit – with land development, economic development and other ways to accommodate population growth. The coordination will be between Campo, TxDOT, CTRMA, Capital Metro, CARTS, and the Austin San Antonio Rail District, as well as school districts, water districts and electric and gas utilities.

"In implementing the Regional Growth Concept, CAMPO will monitor the performance of each activity center, support those activity centers with transportation funding, encourage local governments to support activity centers with zoning and other tools, and execute memos of understanding with local governments," Aulick said.

Those memos of understanding will be an agreement between CAMPO and a local, county or other government to support the CAMPO growth process.

CAMPO is currently completing a series of community workshops with a final meeting today in Bastrop. It is also polling area citizens for input on the process of mixing transportation and land use planning.

For more information on CAMPO's Regional Growth Concept, go to http://www.campotexas.org/programs_growth_concept.php.

Toll road industry eyes Texas projects

The Texas toll road industry – including the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein – was center stage Monday morning at the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association’s annual meeting in Dallas.

The quartet of speakers – Allen Rutter of the North Texas Tollway Authority, Phil Russell of the Texas Department of Transportation’s Turnpike Division, Mike Strech of the Harris County Toll Road Authority and Heiligenstein – all spoke about different "firsts" in the Texas toll road industry. Texas, which has taken aggressive steps toward tolls to fund delayed road projects in the last two legislative sessions, is a subject of high interest in the national tolling community.

Heiligenstein – who was the newest to the toll business – talked about the message that the CTRMA must take out to the public and how that message needs to be adapted. In Austin, politics is not just local; it’s local to the point that it’s down to the actual neighborhood and intersection, Heiligenstein said.

The message in Central Texas has evolved as the toll road plans have been carried forward, Heiligenstein said. Heiligenstein said he appreciated the activism in Central Texas, even as the crowds have been tough on the toll road message.

"Particularly when it’s tough, I think to myself, ‘What would it be like to be in a business where nobody cared?’" Heiligenstein said. "If it’s not going to be a little bit contentious, then why be in business at all?"

The four-county North Texas Tollway Authority was the first to enter the business. As Rutter pointed out, the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike existed almost 50 years ago, pre-dating most of the toll roads, and toll road authorities, in the state. The actual authority – the NTTA – was forged in 1983, at a time when the major transportation officials in the state, including the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, hailed from North Texas.

Rutter highlighted NTTA’s recent agreement with TxDOT to give NTTA the authority to pursue projects as a "responsive agent." Instead of waiting for projects to be chosen for NTTA to complete, NTTA can now go anywhere in the state to bid on projects being pursued by regional mobility authorities or TxDOT. Rutter says the proactive measures give NTTA the chance to leverage its existing operations. NTTA will develop both toll road and managed lane projects in the state, primarily in North Texas.

In his speech, Russell said the state’s new focus on various forms of funding – private and public – is intended to build at a pace that keeps up with the state’s traffic congestion. He pointed out that the state maintains 25 percent of the state’s roads, but those roads account for 75 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in Texas.

Russell walked through the latest history of tolling in Texas, from the creation of the turnpike authority in 1997 to the passage of regional mobility authorities in 2001. The goal was an innovative and progressive approach to funding new construction.

Russell told the story of his staff taking the Central Texas Turnpike Project – State Highway 45, portions of Loop 1 and State Highway 130 – and running the numbers to figure how long it would take to get those roads constructed with the gas tax. His staff estimated it would be either 25 years with the gas tax or 5 years with a tolling arrangement.

So that’s the message that TxDOT took out to the Rotary and Kiwanis luncheon circuit: Do you want these roads in five years, with tolls, or do you want these roads in 25 years, using the current funding patterns? "Of course, most people wanted the roads in five years but without the tolls," Russell told the crowd. "That wasn’t one of the options."

Strech talked about the Harris County Commissioners’ recent decision to pass on privatizing the HCTRA toll road system – which was valued at $20 billion – and pursue a more aggressive schedule of pulling money out of the system – by extending the debt schedule — to pay for needed connectors to the toll road system.

HCTRA’s $229 million Westpark Tollway – which is a converted thoroughfare from the west side into Houston – has been so popular that the toll authority is now considering congestion pricing to try to decrease traffic. The toll authority is completing more than 3.6 million transactions a year on a roadway that is essentially a 4-lane parkway.

HCTRA also has added some technological innovations, adding EZ tags for the local airports and replacing battery transponders with window stickers. The authority also has a pilot for video tolling, giving cab fleets and rental car companies the chance to pay actual pricing – rather than tickets – as they pass through toll booths. The license tags of vehicles are "snapped" as they pass through tollbooths and matched to a database.

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

Wynn to hold Ramadan reception . . . Mayor Will Wynn will hold a reception tonight at 6pm on the Mayor's Balcony to celebrate the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Joining the Mayor in hosting the reception will be the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue. The goal of the non-profit institute is to help bring Austin's various communities together to promote cooperation, compassion and community service. For more information, visit: http://www.interfaithdialog.org. Austin State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos plans to host a similar reception with the group next Monday . . . Chamber to release new report . . . This afternoon, the Greater Austin Chamber and Opportunity Austin will release a report commissioned in partnership with the Seton Family of Hospitals and St. David's HealthCare on the economic impact of the medical sector on Austin's economy. The Chamber of Commerce says the report details the current and potential economic impact of the healthcare sector in Austin in comparison with other U.S. cities. Findings from this report will be important in helping shape the creation of local jobs and services within this industry. The news conference is at 3pm at the Chamber of Commerce, 210 Barton Springs Rd., Suite 400 . . . Car sharing to get a boost . . . Council Members Sheryl Cole and Lee Leffingwell plan to sponsor on item on next week's agenda to spur a pilot program for Austin CarShare, Inc. The program is designed to allow non-vehicle owners to have the benefits of vehicle on an occasional basis. A resolution the two plan to introduce would authorize the City Manager to allocate four permanent parking spaces in the vicinity of City Hall and Capital Metro's downtown offices. Those cars would be exempt from City of Austin meter charges. Cole and Leffingwell want the city to begin a 12-month pilot program with various city departments to use Austin CarShare. Cole said the program could be especially helpful to downtown dwellers. For more information, visit http://carshareaustin.org/aboutcarshare2.php . . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Resource Management Commission meets at 6:15pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The MBE/WBE Advisory Committee plans a Special Called Meeting at 2pm in the Brazos Conference Room at 1111 Congress Ave. . . . The Travis County Commissioners meet at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St . . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the County Annex on Inner Loop Dr. in Georgetown . . . The Hays Count y Commissioners meet at 9am at the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos . . . Bond election preview . . .Williamson County voters will have an opportunity this fall to decide on a bond election regarding the issuance of $250 million in general obligation bonds. Proposition 1 is for $228 million for roads and Proposition 2 is for $22 million for parks. Williamson County will host four Open Houses to provide the public with information on the ballot options. The dates for the Open Houses are: Oct. 3 for Pct. 4 in the Hutto City Council Chambers, 401 West Front Street, Hutto, 6-7:30pm; Oct. 16 for Pct. 3 in the Williamson County Central Maintenance Facility Training Room, 3151 S.E. Inner Loop, Georgetown, 6-7:30pm; Oct. 17 for Pct. 1 in the Brushy Creek MUD Community Center Maple Room, 16318 Great Oaks Drive, Round Rock, 6:30-8pm; Oct. 19 for Pct. 2 in Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Courtroom, 350 Discovery Blvd, Cedar Park, 6-7:30pm. For more information, contact the Elections Office at 512.943.1630 or e-mail dstacy@wilco.org. . . . McMansions Ordinance draws a crowd . . . A pair of city-sponsored workshops on the new Residential Design and Compatibility Standards drew fairly large crowds Monday. Matt Goebel with Clarion Associates led developers, builders and other interested parties through the nuts and bolts of how the new ordinance will change the way they obtain building permits for jobs in the affected areas of the city. City staff from several departments were on hand to answer questions from the public. For more information about the new residential standards, visit: www.cityofaustin.org/zoning/sf_regs.htm. . . . Courthouse Tour . . . Williamson County Commissioners will join Texas Historical Commission staff and Browning Construction representatives for a tour of the Williamson County Courthouse at 1:30pm today. The facility is now being restored to its original 1911 condition. The project is made possible through a $3.75 million grant from the THC's Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Commissioners will view newly installed terra cotta to the top of the courthouse and a mock-up of an office on the third floor. . . . Water Advisory Commission . . . The South Central Texas Water Advisory Committee will hold public meetings this week to receive comments on the effectiveness of the Edwards Aquifer Authority-not to be confused by the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District. The Advisory Committee is preparing a report on the effectiveness of the Edwards Aquifer Authority to present to the Authority Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The committee is scheduled to meet at 7pm on Wednesday at City Hall in Victoria, and at 7pm on Thursday at San Marcos City Hall, 630 East Hopkins Street.

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